Israel, a leader of nations with respect to its research surrounding the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant, took action over the weekend to decriminalize recreational marijuana, potentially putting its pot policies in line with some jurisdictions of the United States and Europe.
The Israeli cabinet approved a progressive measure on Sunday aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with the use of marijuana. Instead, the proposal would allow those caught in possession of the herb to be slapped with a fine. In fact, only repeat offenders would run the risk of prosecution, according to a report from Reuters.
“On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.”
As with the decriminalization laws in parts of the United States, the cultivation and sale of marijuana would remain illegal in Israel. This means there will be no legal marijuana marketplace. The proposal is only intended to protect small time offenders.
Prior to the cabinet’s decision, anyone caught with marijuana could be sent to prison and incur the wrath of a large fine. However, Israel’s previous policy did work to lower the incarceration rates for marijuana possession – only around 200 arrests were made in 2015, according to the New York Times.
The latest effort, however, which will punish fist time pot offenders with a $270 fine rather than running them through the criminal justice system, is intended to “emphasize public information and treatment instead of criminal enforcement,” said public security minister Gilad Erdan.
Israel has been ahead of the game for decades when it comes to studying the medical benefits of marijuana. Unlike in the U.S., researchers there are not hindered by a labyrinth of protocol that prevents the scientific community from closely examining the herb. But rather, the government and the private sector have been working together to turn medical marijuana into one of the country’s leading generators of revenue.
Israel’s medicinal cannabis trade believes the new decriminalization policy will only help strengthen the business.
“This step, although not legitimizing use, is due to reduce the negative perception of the plant as ‘immoral’ or ‘criminal,’ increasing openness to its outstanding medicinal and wellness properties,” Saul Kaye, a pharmacist and CEO for the venture fund ICan: Israel-Cannabis, said in a statement. “The decision will significantly increase entrepreneurship and investment into cannabis in Israel.”
Israel’s Parliament must first approve the measure before the decriminalization law can take effect.