We Never Told Cops to Arrest Light-drug Users, Says State Prosecutor's Office

Police claim they are follwing AG's instructions when they indict possessors of small amounts of hashish or marijuana caught a second time.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The State Prosecutor’s office on Wednesday denied it had instructed the police to indict people for the use or possession of light drugs.

Haaretz reported earlier this week that the police keep arresting and indicting people who were caught with less than one gram of light drugs, despite the attorney general’s instructions not to do so.

The attorney general issued directives in 1985 and updated them in 2003, under which people found to be in possession of small amounts of drugs should not be charged on a first offense.

Former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz instructed the police not to follow the letter of the law in the case of light drugs because it was a waste of time and public funds.

The directives to the police said it was in the public interest not to enforce the law on possessors of small amounts of drugs such as marijuana or hashish for personal use.

But the police interpret this policy to mean that on a second arrest they must indict the possessor. Police officers repeatedly argue in court that this is the attorney general’s instruction.

“It’s in the public interest to convict the defendant and give him a suspended prison sentence and a fine,” a police prosecutor said in the case of a father of four in his late 40s, who was caught with less than one gram of hashish.

The police decided to indict the man, as this was the second time he had been caught. But they disregarded the fact that the first time had been more than two decades ago and involved a tiny amount and that a conviction would lead to the man’s dismissal from work.

The police prosecutor told Haifa Magistrate Court’s Judge Yael Aviram-Katvan that the attorney general had instructed the police to indict possessors for whom this was the second or third offense.

The judge threw the case out, noting that the defendant was an upstanding citizen who had worked at the same company for years and that the previous conviction was two decades ago.

Police Spokesman Deputy Inspector General Rafi Yafe told Haaretz the policy regarding indictments for light drug offenses is consistent and in compliance with the attorney general’s instructions. These “among other things stipulate that charges are filed for possession of drugs for personal use in the case of a repeated offense or for a first offense that includes long-term drug use...or other aggravating circumstances,” he said.

Officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office denied this.“When a person is caught for the second time, the police prosecution must use its judgment on the basis of the overall circumstances,” an official said.

There is no intention of turning tens of thousands of light drug users into criminals and indicting them, he added,

In the case of a Hadera resident who was indicted for possession of 0.16 grams of hash, for example, the police ignored the fact that she was a divorced woman with three children and had spent time in a battered women’s shelter and a psychiatric institution, the official said.

Of the 22,895 investigations opened in 2012 for possession of small quantities of illegal drugs, 17,381 were closed due to a lack of public interest and 5,254 were prosecuted.

Police figures show that in the same year, only 2,226 indictments were issued for drug trafficking and just 313 for growing, manufacturing and distributing drugs. These two clauses make up less than half the indictments served for personal use.

Among teenagers the situation is similar. In 2011 3,794 cases were opened for personal use and only 778 for dealing and possession. In 2012 the number of cases rose by 11% to 4,335, while the dealing cases, where the real problem lies, were reduced by 5%.

The figures show that the increase in drug arrests was among people caught with minimal quantities for personal use, rather than among criminals.

Despite the police’s claim of having a consistent indictment policy, their figures show a different picture. In Jerusalem some 73% of all the cases ended in indictments and in the West Bank 67%. In contrast, in the coastal plain only 33% of the overall cases led to indictments, in Tel Aviv 48% and in the central region 50%.

The indictment rate is based on the various station commanders’ decisions. These decisions stem from each commander’s worldview, rather than from a consistent policy or the attorney general’s directives.

Cannabis.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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