Israel Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession


Lukas Barfield

May 18th, 2017

Policy


While the United States on a Federal level seems to be going backwards at times with its marijuana policy, other countries are taking new approaches to marijuana enforcement. Portugal has famously decriminalized all drugs. Chile legalized medical cannabis in 2015, and is starting to dispense it this year. Their South American neighbor, Uruguay, legalized recreational cannabis in recent years. There is talk of legalizing recreational marijuana in Canada, AND everyone has heard of THE Dutch coffee shops. The latest country to change their marijuana policy on a national scale is Israel. Israel has taken another step toward marijuana normalization earlier this year by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession, but their history with marijuana goes back over 50 years.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, was first isolated in the lab in Israel in 1964 by Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Center for Research on Pain and Yechiel Gaoni of the Wiseman Institute. These ground breaking researchers in Israel also discovered the endocannabinoid system, a little known system in the body which interacts with THC and other cannabanoids, and the presence of naturally occurring cannabanoids in our bodies. These two discoveries revolutionized marijuana research, and laid the foundation for Israel’s embrace of medical marijuana in the future. Israel legalized Medical marijuana for a variety of conditions in the early 1990’s, and the military started using THC to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2004.   Israel, along with Canada and the Netherlands, has a national medical marijuana system. The Israeli government currently owns 8 medical marijuana growing facilities that supply all the medical marijuana for the country. The more recent reforms, including a vote to export medical marijuana and allowing patients to vape marijuana oil in public, can be attributed largely to Israel’s Health Minister, Yaakov Litzmann. The minister proposed a two part plan in 2015 in which the first part trained doctors and health providers on how to use medical marijuana in their treatments. The second part dispensed marijuana to patients throughout Israel. The country has also taken enormous steps in attracting medical cannabis researchers, which has fueled a medical marijuana research boom in the Holy Land.

Consequently, instead of waiting years for program approval like in the United States and other western countries, researchers have a much easier path to large scale human studies under Israel’s more liberal medical marijuana laws. Currently, there are over 100 medical marijuana research studies being conducted in Israel.  These reforms have attracted new eager investors to Israel like US based Steep Hill Labs who announced in March 2017 a joint venture with a domestic medical marijuana firm, ICan. The flurry of over 500 start ups are not only looking to cash in on the 50  billion dollar worldwide medical marijuana market, but replace the largely unscientific understanding of medical marijuana with  a complete pharmacological knowledge base. All these reforms combine to make Israel a leader in medical marijuana, but the latest reform focuses on adult recreational marijuana.

Israel’s latest step in marijuana normalization is decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession. Instead of jail time, people caught with more than 15 grams will be issued a fine of about $270. The fines will increase for each additional offense, up to 3, and only after the fourth citation would a citizen be subject to jail time. Growing and selling marijuana are still illegal under the new law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet via broadcast, “On the one hand we are opening ourselves up to the future. On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two.”

About Lukas Barfield



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