Israel takes steps to decriminalize marijuana use

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JERUSALEM — Cannabis advocates scored a major victory in Israel on Thursday. In a move seen as a step toward marijuana decriminalization, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced a new policy that would cut down on prosecution for recreational use of the drug.

Speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, Erdan said the plan would usher in a “shift to decriminalization with responsibility.”

Some U.S. states, including Colorado, and European countries already have embraced this approach, with a few even going as far as to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The proposal comes on the heels of a Justice Ministry recommendation that marijuana use not be prosecuted criminally, but instead fined or punished by administrative sanctions.

The new policy would apply to users carrying up to 15 grams, roughly a half-ounce. If passed, first-time offenders would face a fine of about $265, with the offense not appearing on their criminal record.

Those caught for a second time would see the fine double. If caught a third time, the punishment would be at the discretion of the police. On the fourth offense, the suspect could face criminal prosecution.

Minors caught for the first time with marijuana would be criminally prosecuted only if they refused to take part in a treatment program. The second offense would be closed with a special settlement. The third time could trigger criminal proceedings.

“We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging,” Erdan said. “I have always taken this topic seriously and I would not make irresponsible decisions about it without understanding the policy’s consequence.”

Israel’s cabinet must approve the policy shift before it can be enacted.