Israel, the home of Jerusalem, which is one of the most famous cities in the world, is also the home of some interesting cannabis laws. As you walk through the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, you might be wondering what the consequences would be if you were to smoke some cannabis while admiring the sunset in Israel.
What is the legal status of cannabis in Israel? Will you get arrested if you smoke weed? Let’s find out.
Medical cannabis in Israel
Israel is poised to become one of the world’s biggest cannabis players. Ziva Eger, the chief executive of Invest In Israel, a governmental agency tasked with promoting foreign investment in Israel, said that ‘After Canada, Israel is the most advanced country regarding [cannabis] regulation and licensing.‘
And this might be surprising to some, but it shouldn’t be. Israel has a long-standing tradition of cannabis research.
Back in the 1960s, Professor Raphael Mechoulam and his team were the first to identify and isolate Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical compound you probably know as THC. He and his research group would also isolate other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and more.
The Israeli government legalised medicinal cannabis back in 1999. The initial law allowed patients who suffered from a limited range of health conditions, such as AIDS or terminal cancer, to access cannabis medication. However, getting your hands on cannabis-based drugs in Israel was difficult at the time, so not many people benefitted from it.
The law was updated in 2007 when the Ministry of Health introduced a medicinal cannabis policy. This policy allowed patients to receive their treatment free of charge in licensed non-profit facilities. This was also when the Ministry issued the first cannabis growing licence.
Nowadays, there are multiple entities conducting research in the medical cannabis field in Israel, including universities, private companies and some governmental agencies. These teams are looking into the beneficial effects cannabis could have on cancer, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and more.
Patients in Israel can access cannabis treatment using government-issued permits. They can get their permits from a specialist doctor who completes an application on behalf of the patient.
The application is then reviewed by a Senior Doctor at the Medical Cannabis Unit and is either approved or denied. Once the application is approved, the patients receive their treatment directly from a medicinal cannabis supplier.
In 2019, Israel passed a new law, legalising the export of medical cannabis. This opened a lot of business opportunities for Israeli companies, and it also encouraged foreign companies to invest in Israel’s blooming cannabis industry.
So, it’s fair to say that cannabis doesn’t have a bad reputation in Israel. Quite the opposite, actually. So how does the Israeli government treat recreational cannabis?
Cannabis laws in Israel
Israel decriminalised cannabis for adult consumption on the 1st of April, 2019. Even though the Israeli cannabis community insists that the 2019 law is not real decriminalisation, the bill allows citizens over 18 to use cannabis in private.
Israeli adults can now possess a homegrown plant or cannabis buds without risking jail time. Adults who are caught in public with small amounts of cannabis will have to pay a fine of approximately $275 (€242) if it’s their first cannabis-related offence and about $550 (€484) if it’s their second offence.
But the third offence within a seven-year period will open a criminal investigation, which is why the Israeli cannabis community insists that the law does not really decriminalise cannabis. Decriminalisation does not apply to those with criminal records, soldiers or minors. However, minors caught with cannabis will be sent to rehabilitation programs rather than prison.
Currently, anything under 15 grams of cannabis is considered a ‘small amount’ and will be treated as a misdemeanour rather than a crime. The Israeli Authority of Combatting Drug and Alcohol Abuse will treat the possession of larger amounts as a crime. However, it uses a few different approaches to combat drug use:
- Some offenders are sent to rehabilitation facilities where they can seek treatment instead of being sent to jail.
- Some offenders might receive more lenient/delayed sentences, depending on their circumstances.
- The authorities distribute clean syringes to addicts to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
Cannabis growing and selling
Israel has a harsh stance on drug trafficking. Selling or supplying cannabis in Israel carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The sentence can increase to 25 years in prison if there are aggravating circumstances. Selling drugs to minors or involving minors in the drug trade can increase the offender’s sentence.
In addition, selling or supplying drug-related paraphernalia is also considered a serious offence in Israel, and this includes selling cannabis-growing equipment. The current law states that individuals who supply growing equipment risk having the assets they acquired over the previous eight years seized as punishment.
As far as growing cannabis is concerned, this is currently a crime that can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years. However, Israeli citizens are allowed to grow small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
The authorities factor in the number of plants involved, the amount of planning done for the cultivation (for example, renting a separate property to grow weed might indicate an intention to supply), existing criminal records and the amount of cannabis produced.
Is CBD legal in Israel?
Israel legalised CBD back in 2016 when the substance was excluded from the list of dangerous drugs. And several Israeli companies invested in CBD since then.
Provacan, an Israeli CBD company, has been so successful that it branched out into other markets. The company launched its UK store in 2019.
In Israel, you can buy CBD straight from the pharmacy. You don’t need a prescription, but Israeli pharmacists have to go through some training before they’re allowed to sell CBD products.
Will Israel fully legalise cannabis?
Israel is taking steps towards cannabis legalisation. Two of Israel’s biggest parties announced in early June that they are going to push for increased legalisation of cannabis use ‘via a responsible model that will be suited to the State of Israel and the Israeli population.’
The outline of their proposed reform mentions that cannabis use will only be permitted to those over 21. Those who work in security-related jobs will not be allowed to consume cannabis, and driving under the influence of cannabis will be forbidden in Israel.
There will be designated shops where people can buy cannabis, but advertising cannabis will still be restricted. The reform also mentioned an educational fund that will be formed to explain the dangers of cannabis to school students.
In late June, the bill passed its first hurdle on its way to becoming law and was approved by Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
The approved bill states that Israel will decriminalise the possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis while legalising the possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis for personal use. Those of 21 years of age or older will be allowed to buy cannabis products from authorised shops.
So Israel is poised to become one of the first states to legalise adult marijuana consumption. Given the advanced cannabis research that’s currently taking place in the country, this move will likely boost Israel to the second position as the largest player in the cannabis market, right after Canada.