Israel set to decriminalize cannabis

As federal cannabis reform slowly trudges forward in the United States, Israel is poised to decriminalize cannabis possession nationwide.

On Wednesday, March 9, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar signed a regulation that renders cannabis possession and personal consumption subject solely to an administrative fine. The regulations are anticipated to be approved imminently by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and will go into effect immediately. 

Additionally, earlier this week, Sa’ar and Israeli President Isaac Herzog announced plans to facilitate expungement efforts for past offenders.

The regulations come in the nick of time. A temporary, similar order from 2019 was set to expire at the end of this March.

The regulations mark a huge step forward after efforts to fully legalize cannabis in Israel—led by then-Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn—failed in November 2020

Although a far cry from full recreational legalization, the decriminalization effort—spearheaded by Sa’ar and first introduced this February—marks significant progress for cannabis justice in Israel.

The new regulation decriminalizes cannabis possession and personal use for all Israelis, including individuals with criminal records. The only exceptions are minors, soldiers, police officers, and soldiers serving as prison guards. Fines would be capped at 500 shekels, equivalent to about $150. (Israel legalized medical marijuana in the early ‘90s.) 

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The regulations take a bold stance on expungement, enabling Israelis with prior cannabis possession convictions (but not those with additional criminal charges) to submit a request to have their records completely voided. Israelis with pending charges would similarly be able to petition to have those charges dropped.

The concurrent expungement effort, President Herzog and Minister Sa’ar explained in a statement released on March 6, comes “out of a desire to erase the label of criminality and the associated stain from anyone who has previously committed the offense of personal possession or use of cannabis.”

The expungement process is nonetheless nuanced; Herzog and Sa’ar additionally insist that, “every request will be considered on its merits, according to its particular circumstances, on an individual basis.”

Israelis seeking to have their records expunged are encouraged to apply via a simple form found on the website of the Pardons Department at the Justice Ministry.

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Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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