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Israel Decriminalizes Pot Possession

"More and more citizens are demanding marijuana use be permitted," Yohanan Danino, then Israel's police chief, observed in 2015. "I think the time has come for the Israel police, together with the state, to re-examine their stance on cannabis. I think we must sit and study what's happening around the world."

If it was surprising to hear a sitting police chief talk about tolerating cannabis consumption, it was even more surprising when the country's right-wing government followed Danino's advice, although it didn't go quite as far as he suggested. In March, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of pot with civil fines.

Under the plan, which was endorsed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the conservative Likud Party, people 18 or older caught with up to 15 grams (half an ounce) of marijuana would be subject to a fine of 1,000 shekels (about $275). The amount would be doubled for a second offense, while third-time offenders would receive probation, possibly coupled with treatment or additional sanctions, such as suspension of their driver's licenses. Criminal charges would be possible, at the discretion of police, only after a fourth offense.

Possession of 15 grams or less is currently punishable by up to three years in prison, although the consequences are usually much less severe. Under attorney general's directives issued in 1985 and 2003, people caught with small amounts of marijuana are not supposed to be arrested for a first offense. Police have discretion as to whether charges should be brought for subsequent offenses.

Arrests for marijuana possession fell 30 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 4,967 to 3,425, in a country with a population of 8.2 million. By comparison, police in the United States, which has a population 40 times as big, arrested about 575,000 people for marijuana possession in 2015, or 168 times as many.

"The current law enforcement policy may come across as arbitrary and draconian, or, alternatively, a dead letter that is no longer enforced," a committee appointed by Erdan concluded. Tamar Zandberg, a member of the left-wing Meretz Party who chairs the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said the new approach "sends a message that a million Israelis who consume marijuana aren't criminals."

While recreational use remains illegal, about 25,000 Israelis legally use marijuana as a medicine. Last year, the government made medical marijuana more accessible by letting more doctors prescribe it and allowing ordinary pharmacies to dispense it. In January the government announced $2.1 million in funding for medical marijuana research, and 37 growers received preliminary permits in March, more than quintupling the number of cultivation sites.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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  • Mithrandir||

    Israel decriminalized the Devil's Weed before the States did?

    Wow we're terrible.

  • Dan S.||

    They are not the first to "decriminalize". But has any country outright made cannabis legal? I don't think so, and the reason is a treaty called the "Single Convention on Narcotic [sic] Drugs", which most countries have signed, and which obligates them to keep pot illegal. Of course, it was the U.S. that pushed for the treaty, but we are now bound by it too. So I don't think you will see Congress outright repeal Federal marijuana prohibition. But it has done the next best thing, by refusing to appropriate money to enforce the Federal prohibition against people who are complying with their state's laws. This kind of sleight of hand may actually be better than decriminalization, if it is really adhered to. What if other countries, without our federal system, adopted such a policy? "This is illegal, but we will not enforce that law in any way." It brings up questions of what it really means for something to be illegal, but hey, if it works, I won't object. Right now, whether it will work in this country is still an open question.

  • Qsl||

    The difficulty is without clear laws, you'll have selective enforcement. Failure to enforce is essentially inviting corruption: we already have selective enforcement for the well-connected.

    Fining seems to operate essentially as a sin tax, which is better than jail, but hardly a sign of a benevolent state.

    I actually find the double-dealing by the state particularly loathsome: they're more than willing to moralize about drug use while collecting revenues.

  • ||

    You are absolutely correct.

    It is legal or it is not legal ... full stop the end. But you need to explore the other considerations of flouting the Federal laws; and the hidden consequences of relaxing state laws.

    My state, Delaware, decriminalized possession of upto 1 oz - it is just a fine like a traffic ticket; medical MJ is legal. Currently Delaware is considering legalizing recreational MJ; although the Governor is against the proponents are pushing the tax benefits of their proposal to offset our deficit - IOW if you can't beat the dealers, replace them.

    However, in addition to the problem that State Law conflicts with Federal, a Delaware Supreme Court judge reportedly pointed out a conflict with other Delaware laws. Namely, gun possession is legal but gun possession plus 1 oz of MJ is a no-no. So the judge suggest that the State may wish to review the current laws in order that the combination of two legal laws result in a conviction.

    Back door gun control? No surely not :-)

  • Robert||

    Hasn't Bolivia repealed all possessory laws on at least cannabis? And I think Portugal eliminated all penalties for simple drug possession, and can at most recommend that you get treatment.

    That still leaves laws regarding sale, but we have those on a great many products, including most drugs. Only a small fraction of drugs are OTC.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    What a waste in every sense of the word, including not just providing employment for all those thugs, but giving them arrest powers. What a frigging waste.

    I cannot fathom the morality that goes on in brains which think it is useful to employ these thugs to take productive, tax-paying people away from families and jobs and ruin so many lives (family, employers, friends) and increase taxes to do so.

    I understand the power politics and all. I just cannot understand it at any other level, how they can twist their own minds and lie to themselves so thoroughly as to think it is actually a good thing.

    Murderers, bank robbers, I understand their simple motives. I doubt very many of them think they are doing the moral work of God in the process, even if they can justify it as feeding their families or drug habit. Government thugs? I do not understand their morals.

  • MSimon||

    Government thugs are simple: the work is legal and the pension is good (on paper).

    Comey's work at a money laundry bank.

  • Charles Easterly||

    Scarecrow Repair & Chippering,

    ... I do not understand their morals.

    I am glad that you do not.

  • John Q. Public||

    Sociopaths do not have empathy. They don't have morals. They don't lose any sleep over ruining lives. Still, a civil penalty is better than a criminal penalty and won't destroy people. It makes it easier to take the next step, full legalization.

  • ||

    But see my comment of 5/24/2014 : 7:12 PM regarding initiatives in DE.

  • Duke of url||

    That's why sociopathic/ retards become cops. They can commit atrocious crimes and still believe they're the 'good guys'.
    That's why they constantly receive awards, commendations and accolades.
    They have to be convinced they are heros, because anyone whom isn't of sub par intellect would never be able to justify or rationalize what they do.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I do not understand their morals.

    IT'S THE LAW, MISTER! AND THE LAW IS THE LAW! AND IF IT'S THE LAW...IT'S MORAL!

  • AlmightyJB||

    The anti-drug propaganda​ had been going on for so long people just accept it's true. You also have a small group of anti-drug zealots who have been negatively impacted by drugs via a family member who team up with politicians who are always happy to pander and LEAs, who are always happy to have more power and money and their passion outweighs that of the general public. It's a disastrous policy but no one is able to see the forest through the trees.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    The parallels to alcohol prohibition are amazing in that regard.

    Nannies to pols to pigs.

    The difference is that fewer people do the drugs that are currently prohibited than those who drank. Hence the oppression has been tolerated for much longer.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I also think that the violence associated with alchohol prohibition seemed to have a bigger impact on public opinion back then, than drug violence has today. Maybe if there were drive bys in the suburbs people may be more inclined to put the street gangs out business. More movers and shakers lived inner city then than today. Who knows though. People today would probably just demand that more of their civil liberties be taken away and double down on stupid. This is why I drink:)

  • Mike d||

    Hopefully, the legalization law applies to their Palestinian territories as well. If any part of the world needs weed, its Israel. They (both sides) seriously need to chill the fuck out. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if weed ends up becoming the reason for bringing peace to the Middle East.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Historically, that hasn't really worked out all that well. You do know the (alleged) derivation of the word 'assassin', right?

  • pan fried wylie||

    my theory is that was a Middle Ages version of the "buying weed funds terrorism" commercial.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Weed + air conditioning + cable

  • El Oso||

    goodie goodie for the IZZies....

  • Juice||

    I love how decriminalize still means punishment. No no, it's not a criminal penalty, it's civil, as if that makes some sort of a difference.

  • Careless||

    pretty substantial difference, I'd say. No jail, no having to tell future employers about it, etc

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    And the state still gets its cut. Authoritarian win/win!

  • Careless||

    that's an authoritarian win for you? are you retarded?

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    And the state still gets its cut. Authoritarian win/win!

  • Juice||

    You don't have to tell employers about misdemeanors like pot possession. I don't know how it works in Israel.

    It's still being considered worthy of punishment, ie a crime, yet it's being called decriminalized. If it were decriminalized, ie not a crime, there would be no punishment.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Cute... while theoretical Reason magazine offices would all be shut down in Saudi Arabia and their writers beheaded three years later.

    while ya'll get fucking cute about drugs in a free country whilst NEVER fucking questioning the sand kingdoms.

    Are the goddamned readers and scribes here EVER going to question the strange takeover of Cato and its ball spurt, Reason?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I promise you that Reason is NOT EVER the place you should support. EVER.

    This will likely be the last post I place to Black Hair Jet Black Jacket Place....

    Because Reason after tonight will be erased from my FREEDOM RADAR

    and it should die because it failed...

    If it lives it should live shallowly and maybe on a bed of rich oil dollars but not REAL support

    Reason is NOT doing its job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I stopped supporting it and you should also...

    let it's little oil baron out in the gulf make it happen with non-Mises article scribes and comments lilting by
    on wings of the unknowing

    I once loved Nick Gillespie like a comic book hero but he sold out Mises, Rothbard, Rand, and Hayek and modern Libertarians who fucking are UNWILLING to cede their country to blank borders and Islam unleashed while Christian gods are questioned.....

    NICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    WAKE THE FUCK UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Wow, that was intense. And I have no idea what you are talking about. It was just like a Jason Statham movie.

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Wow, that was intense. And I have no idea what you are talking about. It was just like a Jason Statham movie.

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Wow, that was intense. And I have no idea what you are talking about. It was just like a Jason Statham movie.

  • thrakkorzog||

    Hey AC, the glibertarians would love to have you around. Most of the regular old posters have gone over there, and your presence has been sorely missed.

  • juris imprudent||

    Cat got your tongue?

  • rageon||

    Still illegal to be Palestinian, though.

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