Israel Eases Sanctions on Home Marijuana Growers

The new shift in policy to differentiate between 'personal use' and 'commercial purposes' is an internal police order first reported by Cannabis magazine

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
An employee holds a package of medical marijuana as he works at a dispensary belonging to Tikun Olam, Israel's largest medical marijuana supplier, in Tel Aviv March 27, 2016.
An employee holds a package of medical marijuana as he works at a dispensary belonging to Tikun Olam, Israel's largest medical marijuana supplier, in Tel Aviv March 27, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

When it comes to throwing the book at marijuana growers, police are distinguishing between those growing pot for their own use and those growing it for commercial purposes, as determined by an internal police order first reported last week.

A order issued this past summer by the police prosecution department states that growing marijuana in small quantities at home for personal use will, under certain conditions, be treated as the relatively minor violation of “personal use,” rather that the more serious offenses of “growing a dangerous drug” or “possession not for personal use,” which is what home growers are now suspected of, whether they are growing a single plant in a flower pot or a whole field of plants.

This internal order aims to clarify the position of the police’s criminal prosecutors in classifying cases of marijuana growing. It will allow police to focus resources more on prosecuting distributors and dealers, rather than consumers, and represents a dramatic change in approach. It wasn’t meant for the public eye, however, and was first reported last week by the online magazine Cannabis.

Growing marijuana, which is defined as a dangerous drug by the Drugs Ordinance, is considered a grave offense. Section 6 of the ordinance states that “A person shall not grow a dangerous drug, manufacture it, produce it, distribute it, prepare it or create it from a different substance, except under license.” In contrast to the clause on possession, in which there is a distinction between commercial quantities and small quantities for personal use, until this new order the act of growing the plant carried no such distinction.

The maximum sentence for growing marijuana is 20 years’ imprisonment, the same as for manslaughter. The maximum sentence for rape, by comparison, is 16 years. The offense of “personal use” of marijuana carries a maximum sentence of only three years, although in practice those caught with small quantities don’t serve time for a first offense. The change will be even more dramatic when a reform goes into effect under which people suspected of personal use can get off with only a fine.

Police say that in recent years they have discovered just how common growing pot at home for personal use has become. According to the new directive, “In recent years, we have witness a non-negligible increase in the number of suspects involved in committing the offense of growing the dangerous drug cannabis in limited quantities, with no sophisticated means of cultivation, in planters on their porch or yard, who until this slip were considered normative citizens.

“On the other hand, there has been a significant increase in the number of suspects growing cannabis in significant quantities, with advanced planning, including the purchase of specialty items (such as fertilizer, chemicals, drip irrigation equipment, special lamps, etc), or who were renting apartments/houses solely for this purpose.”

The guideline lists several criteria for examining each case to determine which offense to attribute to the grower: The number of plants (the larger the number, the more likely the growing is for commercial purposes); the amount of planning involved, such as renting a structure or purchasing special tools; a relevant criminal record; intelligence information; and the quantity of the drug produced.

In Israel some 20,000 drug cases are opened every year, among them a growing number of files being opened for the growing of a dangerous drug, trading and possession not for personal use. In 2015, there were 10,417 such cases, compared to 6,826 in 2013.

The decriminalization reform that was announced by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at the beginning of the year was supposed to go into effect four months later, but is still not in force. Apparently the details are still being discussed by the Public Security and Justice Ministries. The reform is meant to reflect a more lenient view toward the use of marijuana, with fines being issued for the first and second offenses, while a third offense will lead to a suspension of one’s driver’s license and a referral to treatment. Only with a fourth offense will there be criminal prosecution. The reform requires a legislative amendment, in which Erdan wants a clause that will condition the fine option on immediate confession of the offense.

The Israel Police responded by saying, “This is a biased and partial publication of a professional guideline by the police prosecution division. The purpose of the internal guideline is to distinguish between growing a drug for personal use and growing a drug for commercial purposes. We emphasize that there is no change in police policy regarding the handling of drug offenses and the severity the law attributes to this offense. Importing, selling, growing and using dangerous drugs are criminal acts that violate Israeli law and the Israel Police will work to enforce the law accordingly.”

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