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A senior official on Thursday announced that the country would pursue an initiative that would result in decriminalization – though not full legalization – of recreational cannabis in Israel,  though the measure still has some legislative hurdles to clear before it is fully implemented.

The announcement

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The initiative was announced by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who cited the fact that the perceived harm of cannabis has declined relative to its use.

I do not take this issue lightly. Legitimacy to drug use has increased, and the number of users has increased. The awareness of the dangers and the damages from regular use is dropping.

According to Erdan, his path forward comes following his acceptance of recommendations compiled by a panel that he convened to study the issue.

The panel’s recommendations – which are similar to many of the laws adopted by states throughout the U.S. in recent years – include the issuance of fines to those caught smoking cannabis. The regime would replace that which put such offenders under arrest and would allow law enforcement to pursue greater threats to public health, Erdan

The regime would replace that which put such offenders under arrest and would allow law enforcement to pursue greater threats to public health, Erdan said.

Police will be able to redirect resources… away from normative personal users and focus instead on dangerous drugs.

A bill was introduced last year into the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – that would have paved the way for cannabis decriminalization. That effort was ultimately shelved to make way for Erdan’s committee.

The policy

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The new initiative would impose a “four strikes” policy – that is, a first offense would result in the issuance of a fine, though the person found to be smoking cannabis would not wind up with the offense being placed on their record.

The next two infractions would double the fine from the previous offense, though third offense could be closed by the authorities if the offender agreed to take such actions as joining a rehab program.

Erdan said that a right balance had to be struck between youth guidance and ensuring that the punishments in place are not too stringent.

We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging… On the other hand, the police do not have the right tools to deal with the damage caused by using drugs… This is why we must have a broad and conclusive policy change.

Upon the fourth offense, law enforcement would look into charging the offender.

Reactions

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The announcement was met with praise from both Israeli government leaders and from those in the private sector.

Saul Kaye, the CEO of the companies Israel-Cannabis and CannaTech, praised what he saw as a great leap forward for the country’s cannabis industry.

This change will significantly increase entrepreneurship and investment into cannabis in Israel as the old stigma of criminal cannabis disappears.

Should the policy be adopted, said Erdan, it would be implemented by May.

Israel usage

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Statistics indicate that a move to decriminalize cannabis in Israel would be in keeping with the latest cannabis-related trends.

According to the country’s Internal Security Ministry, the enforcement of stringent policies against cannabis users has declined by a whopping 30 percent in the past 7 years.

This may have something to do with the fact that cannabis use is fairly common in Israel: A recent UN study found that 9 percent of the country’s residents are users of the substance.

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