Israel Police Chief Convenes Team to Draw Up New Marijuana Policy

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Illustration: MarijuanaCredit: AFP

Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino is convening a team to examine possible changes to the police’s approach regarding marijuana users.

About two weeks ago, in response to a query from Habayit Hayehudi MK and former journalist Yinon Magal, Danino said there was a need to reexamine police handling of cannabis smokers. Since then, the two have met again several times, and Danino recently advised Magal of the formation of the team, which will revisit policies relating to the opening of criminal files, arrests and police searches directed at marijuana users. Danino is also expected to appoint police Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki to head a team that will look into medical marijuana use in Israel and also examine comparable marijuana policies in other countries.

In an appearance before high school students about two weeks ago in Beit Shemesh, Danino said the time had come for the police, together with the government, to reexamine its traditional approach to marijuana, possession of which is against the law.

On another occasion the police chief stated: “More and more citizens desire and are demanding that the use of cannabis be permitted in one form or another. Over a long number of years, the police have traditionally refused. Newly elected Knesset members have asked me what the police position is now in 2015.”

Danino noted that in the past, a few hundred patients were given permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. “Now we have 20,000 who have permission.”

But the same day, Danino qualified his remarks, stating: “Overseas they pay $50 to someone with a white smock to provide a prescription. I don’t want to go there ... The Amsterdam police commissioner told me that they have gone too far [in the Netherlands] and were looking for a middle ground. The police need to sit with government ministries and other entities and study the subject. We need to make sure that if we proceed with some kind of permission, we avoid the scenes that we are seeing today. We are still far from there.”

In response to Danino’s announcement about the reexamination of marijuana enforcement policy, Eitan Gorni, acting director of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority said: “The police commissioner’s recent statements are beyond the authority and responsibility of the police to make. The Anti-Drug Authority, together with the Justice Ministry, are the relevant parties to examine punishment policy, and we are currently waiting for the new public security minister [Gilad Erdan] to take office. In coordination with him, we will continue to advance [the matter] with the attorney general [Yehuda Weinstein] and the relevant authorities to establish an inter-ministerial committee with the participation of representatives of the [anti-drug] authority, the Justice Ministry, the Health Ministry and those involved in education, treatment and enforcement. The committee’s goal is to reexamine the current enforcement and punishment policy in all its aspects. One must remember that this involves an important issue with many implications, and it is appropriate to deal with it seriously and cautiously.”

Danino is due to wrap up his term as head of the Israel Police shortly. During his tenure, the police sought to strictly enforce the laws against so-called soft drugs. In 2012, for example, the police opened 22,895 files against individuals who possessed the drug for personal use rather than for sale, and 5,254 people were indicted on such offenses. That same year, 2,226 indictments were filed for drug trafficking or the import or export of illegal drugs, and 313 people were charged with growing or producing drugs. That same year, the police apprehended a total of 32,752 people on drug-related offenses, of which 70 percent were detained for drugs possessed for their personal use, as defined by law.

The following year even more people were arrested and more drug files – 23,376 – were opened involving personal use. Some of the suspects were celebrities, such as actress Keren Mor and actor Yehuda Levi, whose arrests attracted major media coverage with the police’s encouragement.

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