Israel's cabinet on March 4 approved a proposed measure to decriminalize recreational use of cannabis, allowing it to go to a vote in the country's parliament, the Knesset. If it passes there, as is expected, first-time cannabis offenders will face a fine of 1,000 shekels ($270), but criminal charges will only be brought on a fourth offense. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who led the reform effort, said that "the government's approval is an important step on the way to implement the new policy, which will emphasize public information and treatment instead of criminal enforcement."
Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of the center-left Meretz party, chair of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said: "This is an important step, but not the end of the road. It sends a message that a million of Israelis who consume marijuana aren't criminals. We will carry on following the details in the committee and ensure that the change is implemented."
The measure was based on the recommendations of a committee headed by Public Security Ministry director-general Rotem Peleg, calling for a shift of focus from criminal prosecution of cannabis users to fines and educational campaigns.
"Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effects," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in a statement.
Israel is already a world leader in medical marijuana, with some 25,000 registered in its national program, and cutting-edge research underway. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, almost 9% of Israelis use cannabis, although many believe the figure to be much higher.
For now, Israel's essentially conservative government is only going so far. Selling and growing would remain criminal offenses under the measure. "On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his remarks on the cabinet's move.
Even some conservatives are coming around, however. MK Sharren Haskel of the right-wing Likud, chair of the Knesset Caucus for Medical Cannabis, said the measure is "not enough." Asserting that "criminalization does not work and wastes resources," she pledged: "I will keep fighting until we have a full-fledged legalization of cannabis."