On Sunday, Israel continued its progressive approach toward marijuana as lawmakers voted to decriminalize personal possession.
While U.S. authorities are threatening to roll back marijuana reform, lawmakers in Israel have pursued a different path. On Sunday, Israeli officials voted to enact a drastic change in criminal penalties associated with personal marijuana possession.
Under the new proposal, first-time offenders would pay a fine of approximately $270. Ensuing offenses would incur higher fines. A fourth violation would result in a criminal charge.
There seemed to be a cautiously optimistic tone in the air among top Israeli lawmakers.
“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.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is seeking to keep Israel as a leader in marijuana law. “Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effects,” he said in a statement.
Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg wants to make sure marijuana users do not risk being arrested. “This is an important step, but not the end of the road. It sends a message that a million Israelis who consume marijuana aren’t criminals,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
In order for the new rules to take effect, the law will still have to be approved by Israel’s Parliament.
Israel has a long history of taking a research-based approach to cannabis and has largely avoided the politicization found in the United States. Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovered cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the 1960s. Mechoulam was able to help convince Israel’s Ministry of Health to legalize medical marijuana in 1992. While California was the first U.S. state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996, federal authorities have yet to recognize any legal use of the drug.