Government approves measure to decriminalize marijuana
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Government approves measure to decriminalize marijuana

Netanyahu says 'we are open to the future... but also understand the dangers'; critics say new proposal watered down

Rolling a joint (illustrative photo: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Rolling a joint (illustrative photo: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will move forward with marijuana legislation in a “cautious, controlled manner” as the cabinet approved a blueprint for decriminalization of personal use and possession of the substance.

During the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, ministers approved the proposed guidelines on decriminalization put forward by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), allowing for the establishment of an interministerial committee of directors that will decide how best to implement the measure.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu said that government would not rush forward with decriminalizing cannabis.

“On the hand one, we are open to the future,” he said, adding that “we also understand the dangers and we will try to balance the two things.”

However, the move by the cabinet drew criticism from legalization campaigners, who said that recent last-minute changes to the proposals had undermined the effectiveness of it.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel — who has strongly pushed for marijuana decriminalization — was quoted in the online Hebrew-language magazine Cannabis on Sunday as saying that the measure approved by the cabinet “is not decriminalization and opposes the recommendations” of the Anti-Drug Authority, which supported decriminalization.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel attends a debate of the Knesset Health Committee regarding a reform to ease access to medical cannabis, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Likud MK Sharren Haskel attends a debate of the Knesset Health Committee regarding a reform to ease access to medical cannabis, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

“The measure that Erdan and Shaked passed today is no less than a mockery of the committee’s findings, and is an attempt to undo them. In practice this measure will continue to criminalize cannabis users,” she said, while adding that “the reality is that this measure does not change [current polices] and even makes [them] more stringent.”

According to a copy of the proposal published by Cannabis, the interministerial committee will present its recommendations to the government by May 7.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on March 5, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on March 5, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Although Erdan’s announcement in January that he would accept the Anti-Drug Authority’s proposed “Portugal Model” — in which possession and use of the drug would be decriminalized and treated largely as a health issue — was met with widespread approval from supporters of marijuana decriminalization, the proposal approved by the government on Sunday does not in fact move toward full decriminalization.

Under the Anti-Drug Authority’s recommendation first-time offenders would be charged a NIS 1,000 ($265) fine and escape having a criminal case filed them, but under the new proposal those caught will have to confess to smoking in order to avoid being charged, while police will still be able “to act in accordance with all of the powers it has been granted” even after a confession.

For a second offense, the same conditions regarding a required confession and the ability of police to act as they see fit still apply, while the fine will be doubled to NIS 2,000 ($530).

Punishments for third and fourth offenses remain largely unchanged under the new proposal from the Anti-Drug Authority’s version.

Those caught for a third time could still escape prosecution on condition they accept a number of possible measures, including loss of their gun or driving license and participation in a rehabilitation program.

Those caught smoking in public on a fourth occasion would be subject to automatic indictment.

Also, whereas under the original proposal home use and possession of marijuana would carry no punishment, the version approved Sunday makes no mention whatsoever of those caught at home.

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