Public security minister rolls back weed decriminalization bid

Gilad Erdan says punishing marijuana possession with fines alone would increase traffic accidents; ministerial vote postponed

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee,  February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Sunday he opposes a bill to relax laws on the use and possession of cannabis since the full implications of such a change requires careful consideration, and claimed it would increase traffic accidents because police would have no way of preventing drugged drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Erdan warned during an interview with Army Radio that the bill’s proposals to substitute fines for the current penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana — community service or jail time — amounted to legalization.

“Already today there is no conviction for first-time offenders,” he said. “As far as the specific bill goes to switch the penalties [for second offenders] with fines, the same as with traffic offenses, and not just for first-timers — that is a form of legalization.”

A vote on a bill to decriminalize possession, originally slated for Sunday, was delayed a week due to opposition from Erdan and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

“This subject requires much more in-depth discussion,” Erdan continued. “What are the implications for youth? What are the implications for IDF soldiers? What are the implications for someone who drives a vehicle in this country? You will do [news] items about the increase in road accidents and I will come and tell you that the police have nearly no way of preventing or enforcing against someone getting behind the wheel when he is drugged.”

Erdan claimed that other countries have come to rue their own legalization of cannabis use.

“It is no coincidence that the anti-drug authorities and police in nearly every country that went in that direction regretted it, including the Netherlands,” he said.

The opposition to the bill from two key ministers responsible for enforcing it led one of its authors, Likud’s MK Sharren Haskel, to delay Sunday’s vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, saying she would first seek “to reach an agreement with my faction colleague,” Erdan.

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 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Supporters are said to have launched an advocacy campaign, flooding Erdan’s office over the weekend with calls for support of the bill. Pro-legalization activists are planning a protest outside his home next week.

In March, 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 has pockets of support across the political spectrum. Haskel’s bill is co-authored by Joint List MK Dov Khenin.

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) said the Justice Ministry was 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 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked by Army Radio Shaked whether this could be the first step in legalizing soft drugs, the minister emphasized 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 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 cannabis use, with over 21,000 people medically licensed to use the drug.

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