Israel decriminalizes marijuana use for non-repeat offenders
© Robert Galbraith / Reuters

Israel’s Cabinet has approved new measures on the path to decriminalize the use of marijuana in the country. Anyone caught using the drug for the first time will only be fined roughly $270 instead of facing criminal charges.

The new policy formulated by the Public Security and Justice ministries shifts focus from criminal prosecution of smokers to administrative fines and educational campaigns.

The policy abandons criminal proceedings against would be first-time offenders who are caught smoking weed in public. Instead, they will be fined 1,000 shekels ($271). The fine will double if the offender is caught the second time.

The third offense will lead to a probation, while only the fourth offense will result in criminal charges being pressed against the individual.

Revenue generated from fines will go to create anti-drug education programs and pay for drug treatment.

Selling and growing cannabis would still remain a criminal offense.

In addition, the new law would not apply to about 25,000 Israelis who have a license to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

If a minor is caught using marijuana, he would be criminally investigated only if he refuses to take part in a treatment program, noted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who led the reform, Haaretz reports.

While the new measure must still be ratified by parliament, Israeli politicians have welcomed the move.

“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,” Erdan said according to Haaretz.

“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,” said MK Tamar Zandberg, the chairwoman of the Knesset Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed less optimistic about the move to decriminalize smoking weed but hoped the focus on educating people about its possible harmful effects will reduce the number of cannabis users.

“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,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in broadcast remarks, according to Reuters.

Erdan meanwhile stressed that the country’s marijuana arrest policy was reexamined in light of legalization efforts around the world.

“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.

Israeli police figures available for 2015 showed only 188 arrests for possession of cannabis, according to Reuters, which is a 56 percent drop since 2010.

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