The end of an era in cannabis prosecutions?

The Israel Drug Enforcement Authority on Monday presented new guidelines for dealing with marijuana possession to the Knesset Committee on Combating Drugs and Alcohol and the Homeland Security Committee. The new guidelines decriminalize the possession of small amounts of Marijuana, reversing a long-standing previous policy.

The new guidelines are based on the successful experience of Portugal and were presented by the Chief Scientist of the Drug Enforcement Authority, Dr. Yossi Harel-Fisch.

The new guidelines state that possession of small amounts of cannabis, cocaine, and heroin would be required to receive treatment within 72 hours, but would not be guilty of a criminal offense.

“I heard about his model from my colleagues in Portugal. We learned a lot from their experience, and we think that we should adopt it here in Israel,” Dr. Harel-Fisch told the committee. “Portugal has a population of 10 and a half million people, and during the 70’s, they experienced a wave of drug abuse. Their strategy was to deal with it as a public health issue and not a criminal issue,” he added.

According to the new guidelines, marijuana will continue to be outlawed, but possession of up to 25 grams will not be handled as a criminal matter. Enforcement would only be in public places and not in private areas. Dr. Harel-Fisch pointed out that in Portugal currently, only 7% of the youth use cannabis, compared to 17% in neighboring Spain, where it is still classified as a crime. He also said that the number of youth moving from cannabis to harder drugs is minimal.

The Chairman of the Drug Enforcement Authority, Eitan Gorny, endorsed the new guidelines, noting that “in light of developments in the world, we understand that the problem with cannabis use is a social and medical problem, and only peripherally a criminal issue.”

The Committee Chairperson, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) supported the new guidelines, adding the “Israel is moving forward to a new era, and it seems to me that legalization is only a matter of time.”

The Director General of the Public Security Ministry, Rotem Peleg, was more cautious, noting that the “we all agree that the use of cannabis is not a good thing, and our goal is to reduce its use.” He added that “this discussion is part of the process of the Committee, but have not yet come to a conclusion.”

Meanwhile, the medical use of marijuana in Israel continues to develop, and Israel’s largest pharmacy chain, Super-Pharm, recently announced that it has been in talks with the Health Ministry concerning selling cannabis its stores to those with a prescription.

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