Israel could become the third country in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use under a plan recently announced by the government. The recommendations from an interministerial committee call for the introduction of implementing legislation by the end of the month. Legalization would take effect nine months after the bill is approved by the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
"It's time to make progress and legalize cannabis in Israel," said Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. "This is a significant, holistic and responsible reform, which shows the State of Israel isn't ignoring reality and is going in the footsteps of developed countries."
Nissenkorn was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Blue and White alliance, which shares control of the current coalition government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud bloc. The justice minister was joined by Likud M.K. Sharren Haskel and Blue and White M.K. Ram Shefa, who are overseeing cannabis policy for their parties.
Under the government's plan, which Nissenkorn described as a balance between "liberalism and responsibility," adults 21 or older would be allowed to purchase and consume cannabis from licensed businesses. Public consumption, home cultivation, advertising, and the sale of edibles that resemble candy would be prohibited. The plan says the government should "ensure the prices are reasonable" to help displace the black market.
Only two other countries—Uruguay and Canada—have legalized marijuana at the national level. Mexican legislators, responding to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that deemed marijuana prohibition unconstitutional, are considering a legalization bill, and they might beat Israel to the punch. In the U.S., 15 states and the District of Columbia, covering about a third of the national population, have legalized recreational use, although marijuana is still prohibited by federal law.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s. Under a partial decriminalization policy that took effect last year, recreational consumers caught with up to 15 grams (half an ounce) of marijuana are subject to a fine of 1,000 shekels (currently about $300). The fine is doubled for a second offense, while third-time offenders receive probation, possibly coupled with treatment or additional sanctions, such as suspension of their driver's licenses. Criminal charges are possible, at the discretion of police, only after a fourth offense.
Last February, Netanyahu announced that he was appointing a committee to study broader legalization, citing Canada as a model. Although that step elicited considerable skepticism, it led to the plan announced last week.