Israel moves to legalise marijuana for recreational use

Tareq Haddad
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Israeli politicians have voted in favour of decriminalising marijuana for recreational use on Sunday (5 March).

The Middle Eastern country will only follow the Western developments towards liberalising laws regarding the the possession and use of marijuana if the policy is ratified by its parliament at a later date.

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According to the policy, if approved, those smoking the drug would be fined rather than arrested and prosecuted, with criminal procedures only launched against those repeatedly caught.

Selling and growing marijuana would remain criminal offences under Israeli law.

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In a televised address to his cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the changes.

"On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future," Netanyahu said, reported Reuters. "On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two."

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Marijuana use is fairly common in Israel with 9% of the population using the drug, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Police figures cited by AFP showed a relatively lax approach to enforcement of smoking the drug.

Only 188 people were arrested in 2015 on charges relating to recreational use of marijuana, with only a handful of those formally charged and taken to court.

By adopting the changes, Israel joins a number of US states and European countries that have started to decriminalise the drug.

In the US, 28 states have legalised marijuana for medical use and since 2012, several have also approved marijuana for recreational use.

In a statement, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said: "Israel cannot shut its eyes to the changes being made across the world in respect to marijuana consumption and its effects."

Authorities should now put their focus on education about the possible harmful effects of drug use, Shaked said.

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