Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan is expected to deliver a formal dressing down to the heads of Israel’s leading anti-drug organization after the latter, at a Knesset meeting on Monday, came out in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Speaking at the Knesset’s Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, top representatives from the Israel Anti-Drug Authority recommended that the possession of up to 25 grams (.88 of an ounce) of marijuana should not be treated as a criminal offense.
Erdan, who is said to be strongly against legalization of marijuana or any easing of punishments for marijuana-related offenses, was reportedly not informed of the Anti-Drug Authority’s recommendations prior to the committee hearing and has no intention of implementing them.
The Anti-Drug Authority is in favor of adopting the “Portugal Model,” in which drug possession and use would be decriminalized and treated largely as a health issue. However, Erdan has been firmly opposed to any change that would see his ministry and the Israel Police’s oversight of drug-offenses diminished.
Yossi Harel-Fisch, the chief scientist of the Anti-Drug Authority, told the committee Israel should model its policy after Portugal’s, which has seen a reduction in drug use since it decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs in 2001, and which Harel-Fisch told Haaretz is “one of the most reliable models in all of Europe.”
Eitan Gorani, who heads the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, told Channel 2 on Monday that while the organization is not in favor of legalization of marijuana, alternatives to reducing its use besides stiff criminal penalties should be developed, such as education and better health treatment for users.
In June, Erdan and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman torpedoed a bill that would have decriminalized possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana, claiming that it would increase traffic accidents because police would have no way of preventing drugged drivers from getting behind the wheel.
In March, legislation was rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that would have allowed up to five grams of cannabis for personal use.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in June that her ministry was exploring the possibility of decriminalizing the use of soft drugs generally, including cannabis.
Asked then by Army Radio whether it could be the first step toward legalizing soft drugs, Shaked emphasized that “we are talking about decriminalization, not legalization.”
She said she began looking into changing the policy on soft drugs soon after entering office last year, and that extensive work had already been done on the matter.
Among Western countries, Israel already has one of the highest per-capita rates of legal marijuana use, with over 21,000 people medically licensed to use the drug.