Consuming cannabis at home? Still an offence!
After thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv to celebrate the government’s historic decision to stop criminalizing cannabis consumers, recent documents reveal that the new program well hardly change a thing: “We have been deceived,” say disappointed activists.
Over the last decade the Israeli Medical Cannabis program has earned a reputation that attracts delegations from around the world seeking to learn new agricultural and scientific discoveries in the field. But it seems that despite the relatively advanced Medical Cannabis system, the local police are not making any mercy for the casual “recreational” user: home raids and Invasive body searches are done on daily basis, with more than 20,000 criminal records on simple marijuana possession being opened annually, and some are finding themselves doing jail time for growing one plant or even holding less than a gram of bud.
And that is exactly why when Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security announced the new De-Criminalization policy in which the penalty for possession of a small amount of cannabis will result in just a fine without any criminal consequences (until the fourth time) – around 10,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel-Aviv celebrating the historic decision.
But recent publications of documents detailing the new program reveal a grim picture in which the police can still abuse civilians and the reality on the ground hardly changes. So, did the Israelis celebrate too soon?
Consuming cannabis at home? Still an offence!
According to the documents, the Israeli “Dangerous Drugs Ordinance” will remain as it is today keeping the possession of cannabis for personal use a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
Instead of completely stopping the criminalization of cannabis consumers, a step that would lead to retroactive cancellation of all the criminal records for the possession of cannabis in the past (as demanded by leaders of the struggle), the new model will keep the existing sections with no change.
Also, according to the new documents, the option of getting a fine instead of criminal charge is stipulated that the suspect would admit that he had committed an offense of cannabis possession. If the suspect does not admit that the material seized in his hands is indeed cannabis – the police will continue with the ordinary criminal procedure which includes searches, investigations, criminal records and even prosecutions.
In addition, and contrary to the promise of Erden that the police will be enforcing the violations of cannabis use in public areas only, the new model does not have any references to non-criminalization of holding cannabis at home. This will not prevent the continuation of police raids on apartments and aggressive searches on a private property.
“Existing criminal records must be canceled”
During the discussion in the Knesset’s drug committee, which was held after the announcement of the end of the incrimination, Minister Erdan claimed that the police would not focus on cannabis consumption in private houses, however he refused to anchor the matter in the bill.
Arden went on to quote propaganda reminiscent of the war on drugs in the 1980s: “I do not think there is any scientifically proven evidence of what is more dangerous – cigarettes, alcohol or cannabis,” he said, “Many accidents are caused by driving under the influence of cannabis.”
MK Tamar Zandberg, chairperson of the committee, said that “all the harassment and the searches in private homes – should be stopped. The active enforcement within the homes is a significant factor in the selective, geo-economic and socio-economic enforcement. The second point – the designation of the fines – is worrisome, I am not fond of the fines model because I am liable to be the one responsible for open checks for fines, and also, another troubling issue is the existing criminal records that must be canceled.”
Business as usual with the police
While the Knesset members are debating how the new policy of decriminalization will be expressed, consumers of cannabis in Israel continue to suffer:
In the capital, Jerusalem, a mass brawl broke out last March, the altercation ended with three detainees, and several policemen and civilians who were wounded – but it began when a couple of policemen tried to arrest a citizen who smoked a joint in a pub in the city center.
The owner of the business claims: “The policemen broke a bar, a window and a table, and turned the place over. I stepped out around 23:30 and then my employee called and said, ‘There are police officers here, beating a customer, I do not know why.’ He then said. ‘About 20 to 30 policemen came for two suspects.’”
It seems that the Jewish people have not yet been able to reach the main goal, and if they wish to enjoy a spliff on their balcony on a Saturday afternoon with no worries of someone getting arrested, the legalization activists and cannabis consumers in Israel have got to continue the struggle.
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 129