Explained

Marijuana Decriminalization Goes Into Effect in Israel. What Does That Mean?

Users will be fined 1,000 shekels, unless they're soldiers, minors or already have a criminal record ■ Opponents say reform makes things worse for first-time offenders

Marijuana enthusiasts smoke in a Haifa park to mark Marijuana Day, April 20, 2015.
Rami Shllush

What is the reform?

Starting Monday, a person caught smoking or possessing marijuana one time will be fined 1,000 shekels ($275) in Israel. If he’s caught a second time, the fine will double. If he’s caught a third time he will be referred to a conditional procedure, an alternative to a criminal procedure that could see the file against him closed under conditions set by the police. Criminal proceedings against a user will be launched only if he’s caught a fourth time.

Who doesn’t benefit?

The reform doesn’t apply to soldiers, minors, or anyone with a criminal record.

So anyone who smokes pot risks a fine?

Not exactly. Police instructions are to focus on public areas, not private spaces.

What will the fine money be used for?

The Public Security Ministry will be directing the funds toward education against drug use and treatment for addicts.

So is this essentially legalization?

No. A police source said, “There is a widespread error that this move constitutes legalization. Cannabis consumption is still forbidden, it’s just the enforcement process has changed."

How are the authorities preparing to implement the reform?

Police have introduced a technological system that will enable police officers to know whether the person they detain meets the conditions for administrative enforcement and what level of fine to impose on him. Policemen have received special training on the issue and a public information campaign will begin shortly.

How did this reform come about?

A committee headed by Public Security Ministry Director-General Rotem Peleg recommended shifting the focus on cannabis offenses from the criminal to the education realm, so that the enforcement system would have additional ways to combat the phenomenon other than opening criminal files and prosecuting users. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan adopted the panel’s recommendations and last August the Knesset approved the reform. At this stage it is temporary legislation, to be in effect for three years, after which it will be decided whether to make the reform permanent.

What is the argument of those opposed to the reform?

Dekel David-Ozer, representing the Green Leaf party in a petition against the reform in the High Court of Justice said that the move is a manipulation: "In a decriminalization law, you would expect something to be annulled in previous legislation, but all this reform does is add the option of fining users. Currently, if a person is caught the first time, their case is closed due to lack of interest to the public. Under the new law, they will be fined — this means the law worsens enforcement."

Green Leaf founder Boaz Wechtel, said: "The reform is partially welcomed but it does an injustice to users who don't have the means to pay the fine, and to minority groups whose abuse will continue through profiling. The police will continue to violate individual liberties without grounds. Only full legalization or regulation will bring justice to users of this magical plant and take control away from the black market and terror organizations"