Tourist Tip #186 / Keep Off the Grass

You may sniff a whiff in the street. But don't let faux casualness of users mislead you. Drugs are illegal.

There you are, strolling down some leafy boulevard in an Israeli city or town, and you smell it. You know that smell. But you should also know this. Though the Middle Eastern drug culture is almost as old as its hills, in Israel, it's illegal. Period.

To wit, it is illegal to buy, sell and consume drugs, from the mildest of hashish – a favorite intoxicant down the Middle Eastern millennia - to the trendiest of party pills.

The tourist might be fooled into thinking otherwise by the seeming casualness with which drugs are occasionally consumed in public. It had become such a norm in nightclubs that in recent weeks the police cracked down hard, arresting dozens in late-night raids.

But while the police are anecdotally less severe with smokers as opposed to dealers, make no mistake. Official tolerance is zero and you can get busted.

Put otherwise, there is no such thing as a permissible amount of narcotics that you may possess.

Getting caught can result in criminal charges, with all that entails, not to mention a grilling about how you came across the drug. The authorities tend to leniency in the case of using "light" drugs (not "heavy" ones) - if the user can prove that he is otherwise normative and leads a productive life: the case may never reach the court, says a lawyer who's handled more than a few of these cases.

But if the authorities so choose, the maximal punishment for use alone – not trafficking – is three years, warns our lawyer.

The burden of proof – consumption versus trafficking – depends on the type of drug and the weight you're caught possessing. For marijuana, for example, it's 15 grams, says the lawyer; get caught with more than that and the assumption is you're dealing.

And it bears mention that if one is caught smoking weed at the wheel, you may as well eat your driver's license when the munchies come, because it'll be toast.

Ilya Melnikov
Ofer Vaknin