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Justice minister proposes further decriminalizing recreational cannabis use

The plan won’t allow prosecution ‘other than in exceptional cases,’ limits fines to NIS 1,000, won’t differentiate between first and repeated offenses

Israelis gather at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to mark the international marijuana smoking day, in a demonstration to legalize the drug, on April 20, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis gather at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to mark the international marijuana smoking day, in a demonstration to legalize the drug, on April 20, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Wednesday published a list of proposed new regulations that, if approved, will further decriminalize recreational cannabis use in Israel.

Under the new draft guidelines, recreational marijuana use will not be considered a criminal offense at all, and will become an administrative offense — similar to most traffic violations.

Recreational use of the drug is currently illegal, though the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.

Under the current rules, first and second offenses are subject to a fine of NIS 1,000 and NIS 2,000 respectively, a third offense requires a conditional settlement deal, and a fourth offense means a possible indictment. Anyone with a prior criminal record can be charged after their first offense.

Sa’ar’s proposed new regulations will not allow for prosecution “other than in exceptional cases,” including for people with a criminal record, will limit fines to NIS 1,000, and will not differentiate between first and repeated offenses.

Minors, as well as soldiers and police officers in compulsory service, will be excluded from the plan.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The current guidelines expire in March, Sa’ar said, and action is required to prevent a reversion to full criminal enforcement of recreational marijuana use.

“As we have pledged to the public, self-use of cannabis will not be considered a criminal offense,” he said. “The lack of a policy on the subject makes, in practice, many normative citizens in Israel criminals, violates the rights of the individual and undermines trust between citizens and law enforcement.”

In 2020, then-justice minister Avi Nissenkorn presented a plan which would have legalized recreational use, but it was shelved due to the government’s collapse and new elections being called.

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel, center, seen during a vote on a law proposing reforms regulating medical marijuana, held in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on October 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Sharren Haskel,  a member of Sa’ar’s New Hope party, has championed cannabis decriminalization. She heads a parliamentary committee working to streamline regulations that she says will “put Israel back on the forefront” of the industry.

The reforms are expected to remove bureaucratic hurdles for scientists studying cannabinoids, ease restrictions on exports and authorize the marketing of CBD — a cannabis-derived compound legal in much of the US.

She has said red tape “has choked the entire market” and driven firms overseas. “It’s almost impossible to have clinical research here in Israel.”

It remains unclear whether Haskel’s reforms will be approved.

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