Israel Must Leave Marijuana Smokers Alone

Smoking grass should not be a crime, and treating it as such is archaic and inefficient.

Haaretz Editorial
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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
Haaretz Editorial

Likud MK Sharren Haskel’s bill, the main point of which is to decriminalize marijuana, was another step in the right direction. The goal is to change the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance to suit reality in 21st-century Israel, where many ordinary people smoke dope in their free time.

Although Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said recently that she was initiating a bill to reduce the penalty for marijuana smoking to a small fine, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan saw fit to hold up the bill by ordering the establishment of a committee to study enforcement policy against marijuana for personal use.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided on Tuesday on a three-month postponement of discussion on Haskel’s bill, and will wait for the recommendations of the panel, to be headed by Public Security Ministry representatives and staffed by officials from the Justice Ministry and Anti-Drug Authority. In response, Haskel said she was shelving the bill.

This regression is regrettable, especially since Erdan is contributing to the absurd status quo whereby the Israel Police tirelessly persecute grass smokers instead of devoting themselves to dealing with more urgent issues.

Every year more than 20,000 drug-related files are opened – about 40 percent of them for possession for personal use, and every day more than 20 people are arrested for personal use of recreational drugs. In many cases those arrested are perfectly normal young people who find themselves with a criminal record that could shadow their future.

In recent years the police have been criticized for their enforcement policy on soft drugs, and following a robust public debate, former Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said in May of last year that he “thought the time had come for the Israel Police, together with the state, to examine and study its traditional concern [about cannabis].”

At the time Danino, who was about to leave office, ordered that a panel be established to study the subject, and to be headed by police Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki. Two weeks after Danino made the statement, Erdan, who has a more conservative approach, became public security minister. Later the committee published its recommendations, opposing changes in enforcement, with Erdan's backing.

In view of the trend in the Western world and the situation in Israel, the current Dangerous Drugs Ordinance is a prime example of ignorance and rigidity. Smoking grass should not be a crime. Treating it as such is archaic and inefficient.

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