Israel's Police Chief Is Right: Leave the Pot Smokers Alone

Smoking soft drugs is not a crime but rather a recreational norm in large parts of society.

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A pot store in Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized. The IADA is particularly concerned about widespread use among teens.
A pot store in Colorado.Credit: AP
Haaretz Editorial

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino’s call last week for the police to ease their stance on soft drugs is a good one. And we shouldn’t suspect Danino, who soon leaves office, of being an enthusiastic supporter of legalization or a radical liberal willing to risk the social order.

During his term the police have taken a strong position against ordinary people whose only sin was smoking a joint or possessing a small amount of marijuana for personal use.

In 2012, for example, the police opened 22,895 cases of drug possession for personal use, which resulted in 5,254 indictments. But there were only 2,226 indictments for trafficking, importing and exporting drugs — real criminal activity. In 2013, even more cases were opened for possession for personal use.

These numbers do not reflect a tough and effective rule of law, but rather a foolish focus on the trivial. This focus includes disproportionate harm to people not involved in criminal activity, a huge waste of police resources and an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on the prosecution.

This is what former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was referring to when he sought to halt the unnecessary waste in prosecuting recreational drug users. He told Haaretz in 2013 that a hard line on recreational drugs “doesn’t pay off,” whether considering the individual’s well-being or the proper use of law enforcement resources.

Danino, during whose term the police suffered endless sex and corruption scandals, apparently understood what Mazuz understood — and not only Mazuz but also judges, Knesset members, public defenders and other senior law enforcement officials.

Smoking soft drugs is not a crime but rather a recreational norm in large parts of society. All is well as long as people don’t smoke while engaging in other activities such as driving — and of course smoking should be done in moderation.

The view that the possession and smoking of recreational drugs is something that endangers the individual or the social order stems from ignorance and pure conservatism. The police’s task is not to protect conservative values but to protect citizens and society.

New Public Security Minister Yariv Levin, an inveterate conservative, should listen to the experienced Danino and adopt his approach. Leave the pot smokers alone and go after the real criminals.

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