Israel's Justice Ministry Calls to Decriminalize Marijuana, Impose Fines Instead

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Illustration photo: A man smokes marijuana
The day may be approaching when lighting up a joint is no longer considered an illegal act for which you could go to prison in Israel.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

The Justice Ministry recommended to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that the use of marijuana not be prosecuted criminally, but fined or punished by administrative sanctions, instead.

A 120-page legal opinion reviewing concerns raised by decriminalizing marijuana was first reported by the Walla website. The document notes concerns that the number of users could rise, particularly among minors; that road accidents might increase; that decriminalization of soft drugs could be a gateway to the use of more serious drugs and that leniency could make it more difficult to collect evidence against drug dealers.

“Indeed there is concern that the message of decriminalization could be wrongly interpreted as encouraging use,” the document says. “This concern must be addressed through appropriate informational activities, but does not justify leaving the problematic policy of criminalization in place.”

The recommendations call for changing the legal approach to marijuana in Israel to a health-centered approach, certainly in cases of personal use. Such a model exists in Portugal for narcotics as well. “If the focus is indeed only on cannabis, the health model can be relevant primarily to that minority of users that need help because of addiction and the like,” the paper says, adding that since this process is likely to take time, a change in the enforcement policy should begin immediately.”

Arrests for personal use of marijuana have dropped 56 percent over the past five years, from 424 in 2010 to 188 in 2015, the paper says. It recommends using funds earmarked for crime fighting toward helping to reduce harm to users, such as road accidents and harder drug use, "which are destructive means, that may likely cause more damage than the harm caused by actual use [of cannabis].”

Shaked’s office responded: "There is indeed great wisdom in moving from criminal enforcement to administrative enforcement. Hundreds of thousands of people cannot be considered criminals. But we must still take all considerations into account."