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Israel plans to ease laws on personal use of cannabis

Those caught smoking cannabis in public will be fined rather than arrested and prosecuted
Worker harvests cannabis plants at medical cannabis plantation near northern town of Nazareth (Reuters)

Israel plans to decriminalise personal cannabis use, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Thursday, adopting an approach similar to some US states and European countries.

Erdan said that if the government approves his new policy, those caught smoking cannabis in public will be fined rather than arrested and prosecuted. Criminal procedures would be launched only against those caught repeatedly.

"This means that we are moving toward fines... and that criminal prosecutions will only be used as a last resort," the minister, Gilad Erdan, told a news conference in Tel Aviv.

"Police will be able to redirect resources ... away from normative personal users and focus instead on dangerous drugs," Erdan added.

He said that he had adopted the conclusions of a commission created to study the issue and which recommended the move.

For the policy initiative to take effect, the cabinet must approve it, but Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has reportedly already indicated she will support it.

Erdan’s recommendations include imposing a fine of 1,000 shekels ($265) for a first offence of smoking cannabis in public. The fine would double on the second offence.

A fourth offence could result in criminal prosecution.

If the government approves the new policy, it will take effect within three months, Erdan said.

Cannabis use is fairly common in Israel. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that almost nine percent of Israelis use cannabis.

According to data presented to parliament by the Internal Security Ministry in December, enforcement against personal cannabis users has dropped by 30 percent since 2010.

Figures presented to the Justice Ministry showed only 188 people were arrested in 2015 for smoking cannabis, a 56 percent drop since 2010.

Israel is one of the world leaders in medical cannabis research, and about 10,000 people have a licence to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

While recreational cannabis use has remained illegal in Israel, the country has for 10 years authorised medicinal cannabis for those with cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and degenerative diseases.

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