Marijuana decriminalization would penalize users under 21

Proposed legislation seeks to punish public smokers, limit amount for personal use to 5 grams

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

New details on the legal efforts to decriminalize marijuana that emerged on Monday revealed that Knesset members are pushing to allow Israelis over the age of 21 to hold up to one plant, 15 seeds, and five grams of pot without penalty.

Under the move spearheaded by freshman MK Yinon Magal (Jewish Home party), the plant would be legal for private use, with individuals allowed to keep small amounts of cannabis and derivative products in their homes.

The proposal, published online on Monday, limits the amount permitted for personal use to 5 grams (a previous version of the legislation sought a cap of 15 grams). Young users under the age of 21, however, would be liable for a NIS 1,000 ($260) fine for marijuana use up to that amount and NIS 1,500 ($390) for sales. That fine will increase to NIS 3,000 ($780) for under 21-year-olds who are found with more than five grams and to NIS 2,000 ($520) for those over 21 who surpass the pot limit.

The bill also calls for the full decriminalization of sales of bongs and smoking implements, while hitting public pot-smokers with a NIS 1,000 ($260) fine.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch published a Facebook post in support of the bill, noting that an estimated 300,000 Israelis smoke marijuana.

“On a personal level, I have never tried or used drugs, and more than that I don’t encourage, heaven forbid, drug use,” he wrote. “But I am not blind to the reality that is hurting many citizens. Individual liberty is a basic value of a democratic society, and with that belief I signed this week on the proposal that seeks to regulate the issue.

“We have at least 300,000 good reasons to change the current situation,” he said.

The bill also maintained that it does not encourage marijuana use, but merely regulates it.

Similar bills have been shot down in the past, but legalization activists have high hopes this time, after a group of eight Knesset members from across the political spectrum indicated they would support the budding proposal.

Drug dealing will still remain forbidden under the charter, as will smoking the plant in public, Magal indicated. He modeled his bill on an older one written up by Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, who gave him her blessing.

While such cooperation across the aisle is rare, cannabis appears to have a unique capacity to bridge political differences, bringing together a diverse group of MKs from a variety of parties.

In addition to Zandberg, Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), Yoav Kisch (Likud), Jamal Zahalka (Joint [Arab] List), Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) have signed on the bill.

The ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism said they would need to seek halachic approval before joining the bid. In a possible indication of a lenient approach on the matter, earlier this month UTJ head Yaakov Litzman sought state subsidies for medical marijuana.

“This is first and foremost a social proposal meant for youngsters from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who were arrested for a grain of cannabis, spent a night in jail with crooks, and may [as a consequence] fall into the world of crime,” Magal said.

In recent years, Israel has faced a growing chorus of calls for the legalization, or at the very least the decriminalization, of marijuana.

Earlier this month, the Israel Defense Forces was reported to also be considering easing restrictions on recreational drug use among soldiers. In March, the Israel Anti-Drug Authority launched an ad campaign promoting medicinal use of marijuana. And Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino has said several times this year that the police force would reexamine its policies on arresting recreational users.

Last month, a number of politicians joined Magal at a pro-legalization rally in Tel Aviv, including Zandberg, MK Miki Zohar (Likud), and former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin.

Among Western countries, Israel already has one of the highest per-capita rates of legal cannabis use, with over 21,000 people licensed to use the drug for medicinal purposes, according to the NRG news website.

While the liberal, pro-legalization Green Leaf party fell well short of passing the 3.25-percent threshold required to make it into the Knesset, its pro-cannabis message hit home with IDF soldiers, who awarded it 8,472 votes — or 3.64% of their tally — nearly three times more than the general population, suggesting Israel’s younger generation generally favors marijuana decriminalization.

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