Israel Poised to Decriminalize Recreational Cannabis Use

The proposed regulations, which are expected to be approved in the coming days, would decriminalize personal cannabis use and expunge the criminal records for those convicted in the past in the majority of cases

Demonstration for marijuana legalization in front of the Israeli Knesset, Jerusalem, 2017
Demonstration for marijuana legalization in front of the Israeli Knesset, Jerusalem, 2017Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

The Israeli government is considering decriminalizing recreational marijuana use and expunging the criminal records of those convicted of personal possession or use of cannabis, President Isaac Herzog and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced Sunday.

On approval of the new regulations, those with recreational-use convictions would be able to submit a request to have their records expunged, while those with pending criminal proceedings would be able to contact the police with a request to drop the charges. The move, said the statement, is intended “to lift the criminal labeling and the stain that accompanies it" and to "complement" decriminalization regulations published last month.

Sa’ar is expected to sign the regulations in the coming days, after public comments are procured, and approval – followed by immediate implementation – is anticipated at the Knesset shortly thereafter.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, February.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton

The new regulations would not apply to those also charged with other offenses alongside cannabis use, apart from possession of drug paraphernalia; to those who were convicted during military service; or to minors. Each application will be considered "individually, based on circumstances," said the statement.

A current temporary order, set to expire at the end of March, prevents imposition of a criminal record for the first few offenses, although a record is imposed on the fourth charge and on those with a prior criminal drug-use record.

According to the draft of the new regulations, minors, soldiers, police, and soldiers doing their compulsory as service prison guards would still be charged as before. But personal cannabisuse would otherwise be completely decriminalized, including for people with criminal records. The maximum fine would be limited to 1,000 shekels.

Sa’ar reportedly moved ahead with the regulations after concluding that there was no chance the current Knesset would pass the full decriminalization reform proposed by former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn in November 2020, which would have required full-fledged Knesset legislation.

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