Cabinet vote on decriminalizing cannabis delayed a week
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Cabinet vote on decriminalizing cannabis delayed a week

Bill to cancel criminal penalties for marijuana possession faces opposition from ministers of health, public security

Illustrative photo of a marijuana bud (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a marijuana bud (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

A vote on a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has been delayed a week due to opposition from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The legislation was scheduled to come up for a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but opposition from two key ministers responsible for enforcing it has led one of its authors, Likud’s MK Sharren Haskel, to delay the vote “in order to reach an agreement with my faction colleague” Erdan.

According to the Hebrew-language online magazine Cannabis, which supports the measure, the bill would decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis for anyone over the age of 21. Those caught in their home with a “personal” amount of cannabis would pay a fine of NIS 300 ($78) and those caught in public would be fined NIS 1,500 ($390).

The new policy would not change the punishment for those caught growing the drug in their homes or for users under the age of 21, the report said.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel at a faction meeting in the Knesset, May 30, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Sharren Haskel at a faction meeting in the Knesset, May 30, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Supporters are said to have launched an advocacy campaign, flooding Erdan’s office over the weekend with calls to support the bill.

In March, similar legislation was rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that would have allowed up to five grams of cannabis for personal use.

Legalization of cannabis enjoys widespread support across the political spectrum. Haskel’s bill is co-authored by Arab Joint List MK Dov Henin.

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) said the Justice Ministry is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing the use of soft drugs generally, including cannabis.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the weekly Jewish Home party meeting at the Knesset on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the weekly Jewish Home party meeting at the Knesset on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shaked told Army Radio that under the potential new guidelines her ministry was considering issuing, the use of soft drug would still be illegal, but would not carry criminal penalties. Those caught using them would pay a fine only.

When the interviewer asked Shaked whether this could be the first step in legalizing soft drugs, the minister stressed that “we are talking about decriminalization, not legalization.”

The rationale behind the potential new policy, Shaked said, is that the use of soft drugs is too widespread to be considered criminal, but by issuing fines it remained an act formally forbidden by the government.

Shaked said she began looking into changing the policy towards 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 cannabis use, with over 21,000 people medically licensed to use the drug.

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