Weed in Israel – Don’t Let Your Friends Be Your Guide.
By: Adv. Jay Hait
They mean well and want to help you when you come on Aliyah. But when it comes to weed in Israel, don’t let your friends be your guide. Aliyah brings with it pressure and stress. Your friends and other Olim are there to help ease the burden. But if they suggest you unwind with a little cannabis or weed you better know exactly what the laws are so you don’t wind up getting arrested. That would not be a very auspicious beginning to your new life.
Jared had been planning his Aliyah since 2018 and was thrilled to have finally made it to Israel. A few of his California friends had preceded him and they were celebrating Jared’s arrival with a ‘welcome home’ party.
“Can I get you a drink? A little weed?” The host welcomed the guest of honor with a warm embrace.
“Wait. What? Weed is legal here?” Jared asked. He’d heard you could only use it in Israel with a medical prescription.
“No worries, man! Everyone does it. It’s just about legal. They’ve been batting it around in the courts for a couple of years. It’s just a formality now. Come on, let’s celebrate!”
The cops showed up because of a neighbor’s noise complaint. And instead of celebrating, Jared and his friends spent the night getting processed for the possession and dealing of cannabis.
Did you know that cannabis has many different names, including more than 1,200 slang terms, and some 2,300 names for individual strains?
Slang names: Weed and pot are commonly used slang term for marijuana. New slang names, like ‘trees’, came into use early in the twenty-first century.
Some other names: Dagga (Afrikaans), Ganja (Hindi), Hashish (Arabic)
There is a story that the English word ‘assassin’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘hashishin’ (Hashish eater)? In the 1200’s the leader of an Islamic sect stoked his followers up with hashish before sending them on a murderous mission.
Are you a drug dealer in the eyes of the law?
When we come on Aliyah we learn that Israel is often more relaxed when it comes to bureaucracy. We hear stories about passports being issued on the spot even though the official proclamation is that it takes three days. Or the wink and nod that gets people an entrance to a closed government office. That wonderful new word, ‘protectzia’ or ‘ who you know’, enters our lexicon. Just the sound of it connotes magical possibilities. But when it comes to the legal system in Israel, especially when it involves weed, you’re better off knowing exactly what the status is before you get involved. For example, did you know that the simple act of dividing your group purchase of weed amongst friends could make you a drug dealer in the eyes of the law?
Most clients who come into my office with drug related charges are extremely surprised that they’ve been arrested, let alone accused of dealing. They’ve come on Aliyah from western countries where it’s legal. And they’ve been following the news in Israel surrounding legalization here. They are not, nor have ever intended to be, drug dealers. Many have simply purchased some recreational pot together with their friends. The act of giving their friends their share in exchange for money is what classified them as dealers. Some of them know this ‘soft drug’ isn’t yet legal for recreational use in Israel. But they were under the impression that the law isn’t really enforced when it comes to personal use. They found out the hard way that the police don’t actually look the other way. So until the government legalizes recreational marijuana in Israel, here are some things you need to know.
Who’s Using Cannabis?
Research shows a huge jump in the recreational use of cannabis in Israel in recent years – up to 4 times more (27% of the population) – compared to previous years where it stood at 8.8%. As we do with many – usually more admirable – endeavors, Israel went straight to the top. We’re first in the world with the most pot use from ages 18-65. Iceland came in second and the United States was third in this 2017 study.
Cannabis was first studied in Israel in1964 at the Weizmann Institute. We currently have the most advanced cannabis research centers in the world and a long-established history of authorized use of cannabis for medical purposes. Since 1990 it’s been possible to get a medical prescription to legally use it for treating symptoms of cancer, chemotherapy, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and many other illnesses. Patients either smoke it, take it orally or apply it directly to the skin in a cream. And the Israeli Defense Force has used it since 2004, for the treatment of post traumatic stress syndrome. Dozens of countries worldwide have legalized cannabis for medical use. And recreational use is legal in Canada, more than 18 states in The USA, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay and Australia.
Legalization of cannabis in Israel
Even though there have been various proposals to fully legalize cannabis or ‘soft drugs’ for regulated recreational use, it appears that up until recently Israel’s long standing political stalemate had put a hold on any move forward. One notable change, however, is some recent “easing” in the punishment for personal use of cannabis. So while it’s still illegal to be in possession, it is possible that Naftali Bennet’s government could garner enough votes in the Knesset to pass new cannabis legislation.
Israel is the start-up nation and so it stands to reason that the planning for new commercial and recreational opportunities for the cannabis industry has been underway for a few years. Everyone is waiting, with bated breath, for the new legislation.
There is a big chemical difference between soft and hard drugs. Marijuana (also known as cannabis, pot, or grass) is classified as a soft drug. The risks are less serious than with hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and the like. There are no plans to legalize these more dangerous and highly addictive substances.
What are the penalties for possession?
What is the legal distinction between personal use and dealing when it comes to soft drugs? It’s classified as personal use if you are in possession of up to about 15 grams of soft drugs. If you have anything above 15 grams on you, you are legally a drug trafficker. And as mentioned before, if you are caught dividing a group purchase amongst your friends and taking their money to pay for their share, you are a drug dealer in the eyes of the law. However, it is important to note that there are some exceptions where the classification can be changed.
The aforementioned easing in the law has established the first offense of personal use of cannabis as “administrative offenses,” which will get you a fine. This usually leaves no criminal record. However, in the event of a repeat offense in a period of less than 5 years it will be considered a criminal offense.
- The “first” offense is a fine of 1,000 NIS
- The “second” offense is a fine in the amount of 2,000 NIS.
- Any additional offense beyond a second offense will result in an indictment.
If You’re Caught With Pot
It’s still illegal to be in possession of cannabis without a medical prescription in Israel. We seem to have been stuck in the midst of this legal battle for far too long. And so much is unclear. So when it comes to weed in Israel – don’t let your friends be your guide. Familiarize yourself with the laws through your own research.
To be safe, if you are caught with pot, be respectful and follow the directions of the police. But don’t say anything and don’t sign anything. Ask to call an attorney. Your lawyer’s meticulous attention to the details surrounding your case can mean the difference between being prosecuted and the charges being dropped.
Jay Hait is a family law attorney specializing in divorce and child custody. His practice has expanded to include a criminal law department because the families he’s assisted have come to him with many of their other challenges as well. You can contact Jay with your questions about cannabis, as well as divorce, child custody, wills and continuing powers of attorney. Hait Family Law Israel (077) 200-8161 USA (201) 696-3947 firstname.lastname@example.org