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Summary

Israeli law generally criminalizes the possession and use of narcotics listed as “dangerous drugs,” including cannabis.  Although the law imposes severe penalties on offenders, as a matter of policy the prosecution is instructed to close criminal files involving offenders the law refers to as “normative persons.”  Such files are to be closed with a warning and under specific requirements if such offenders do not have criminal records and were caught for the first time with a small amount of marijuana or hashish for personal consumption.

The Israel Anti-Drug Authority objects to legalization of all drugs and does not distinguish between “light” and “heavy” drugs.  Several private member bills, however, have been introduced by Knesset Members in recent years with regard to offenses involving cannabis.  These bills either call for reduction of penalties for certain offenders possessing or consuming cannabis for personal consumption, or call for decriminalization of certain types of cannabis products or strains, such as those containing natural cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) lower than 0.2%, or those considered medical cannabis.  These bills are at the preliminary stage and have not been forwarded for further legislative consideration at this time.

I.  Criminalization of Possession and Use of Dangerous Drugs

The possession and use of “dangerous drugs” in Israel are generally prohibited.  Possession is permitted, however, for authorized pharmacists, physicians, veterinarians, and persons who received the drugs from authorized medical professionals.[1]  The use of dangerous drugs is similarly permitted if used for medical reasons when the drugs were dispensed by authorized medical professionals.[2]

The Law defines “dangerous drugs” as any of the substances that are listed in its first schedule.  The list currently includes, among others, “any type of the plant of cannabis and every part of it, including its roots, but excluding the oil that derives from its seeds.”[3]

The unauthorized possession or use of dangerous drugs constitutes a criminal offense punishable by twenty years’ imprisonment or a fine at a rate of 5,650,000 Israel Shekels (ILS) (about US$1,468,646).  Where possession or use is for personal consumption the penalty is reduced to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of 226,000 ILS (about US$58,789).[4]  However, a minor under the age of sixteen convicted of possessing or using dangerous drugs on the premises of a school where he or she is not a student is subject to five years’ imprisonment.[5]

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II.  Implementation Policy

Notwithstanding the Law’s penalty structure, a directive issued by Israel’s Attorney General states that cases involving use or possession of dangerous drugs by “normative persons” who do not otherwise have a criminal record, and who were caught for the first time possessing or using a small amount of marijuana or hashish for personal consumption, should not generally be subject to full enforcement of the Law.[6]  Files closed under these circumstances should be labeled as closed for lack of public interest in full implementation, considering the suspect’s first-time drug offense perpetrated for personal consumption.[7]

To be authorized for closure the following conditions should be met:

  • The suspect has confessed;
  • The suspect has filed a request to close the file; has committed to not using any more dangerous drugs in the future; and declared that he/she is aware that if caught again he/she would be subject to the full force of the law also for the first offense, subject to the statute of limitations;
  • There are no other criminal records of the suspect’s involvement in drugs, property, or violent offenses, or “other relevant offenses;” and
  • There are no aggravating circumstances, such as when the suspect was responsible for the safety of others.[8]

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III.  Anti-Drug Authority’s Position on Decriminalization of Narcotics

The Israel Anti-Drug Authority (IADA) is a statutory corporation established by the National Authority for Fighting Drugs and Misuse of Alcohol Law, 5748-1988.[9]  According to its website, “IADA is a quasi-governmental agency, which operates under the aegis of the Prime Minister.  In 2009, the Israel Knesset approved a decision granting the Ministry of Public Security responsibility for IADA.”[10]

The IADA objects to legalization of all drugs and does not distinguish between “light” and “heavy” drugs.  It specifically rejects the claim made by “a small, vocal, and noisy minority, which tries to convince youth that the use of cannabis products causes limited damage or no harm at all especially regarding marijuana.”[11]  According to the IADA there are approximately two hundred types of marijuana currently available.  The main difference among them, it states, is in the concentration of their active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  As compared with the 1960s, when the percentage of THC did not exceed 4%, there are currently types of marijuana with a 25% concentration of THC, the IADA’s website states.  Consumption of THC, according to the IADA, disrupts brain activity and has a negative impact on memory, coordination, and the ability to concentrate.[12]

The IADA does recognize that in certain circumstances criminal prosecution may be replaced by other approaches.  These include sending suspects caught for the first time to drug rehabilitation and treatment in lieu of being processed in the criminal justice system, and imposing lenient or delayed sentences on such offenders.  The IADA also supports the distribution of clean syringes to addicts, to prevent the spread of AIDS and other contagious diseases.

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IV.  Bills for Decriminalization or Penalty Reduction for Cannabis Offenses

Several private member bills have been proposed by Knesset Members (KMs) in recent years addressing offenses involving cannabis.[13]  These bills can generally be divided into two types: bills that call for the reduction of penalties for certain offenders possessing or consuming cannabis for personal consumption, and bills that call for the decriminalization of certain types of cannabis products.  The following is a brief summary of some recent draft bills from both groups.

A.  Reduction of Penalties for Certain Offenders

The latest draft bill was introduced on May 23, 2016, by KMs Sharren Haskel[14] and Dov Henin.[15]  The bill calls for a significant reduction in the severe penalties for adults over twenty-one years of age if, at the time of committing an offense involving possession or use of cannabis, they did not commit additional offenses punishable by three months’ imprisonment or a fine.

The bill proposes to subject such offenders to a fine of up to 300 ILS (about US$78), or up to 1,500 ILS if the offense was committed in a public place.[16]

Explanatory notes to the bill state that it was not designed to encourage cannabis use.  Instead, it is designed “to prevent transforming normative adults over 21 into criminals in the eyes of the law.”[17]  According to the explanatory notes, the bill would save “huge amounts invested in law enforcement” and relieve the burden on the justice system, “which is required to handle thousands of criminal files for use and possession of cannabis for personal use every year.”[18]

B.  Decriminalization of Certain Types of Cannabis Strains or Products

A draft bill submitted by KMs Sharren Haskel on March 30, 2016, calls for excluding cannabidiol (CBD) from the cannabis products the possession or consumption of which are criminal offenses.[19]  Noting the numerous, known medical advantages of CBD, the bill’s explanatory notes provide that many American and European companies have been investing in the development of synthetic CBD.  Unlike natural CBD, synthetic CBD causes side effects for users.  According to the explanatory notes, a unique strain of natural CBD has been developed and exists only in Israel.  Calling for decriminalization of CBD, the explanatory notes state that natural CBD does not require patent registration, has many medical advantages, does not cause the feeling of floating otherwise caused by synthetic CBD, and represents the potential for significant income to the state.[20]

Another draft bill introduced on March 28, 2016, calls for excluding medical cannabis from cannabis products that are considered dangerous drugs under the Law.  Currently, the distribution of cannabis for medical purposes requires special authorization by the Medical Cannabis Unit in the Ministry of Health.[21]  The bill proposes facilitating the dispersion of medical cannabis by medical professionals and pharmacists, or other authorized persons.[22]  The draft bill defines “medical cannabis” as cannabis that underwent the necessary procedures for adjustment for medical use—either in the form of powder, oil, food, or in another way—including all the endocannabinoids that exist in it in a natural way.[23]

A draft bill introduced by six Knesset Members on February 29, 2016, proposes to exclude industrial strains of cannabis from cannabis that is considered a dangerous drug. The draft bill defines “industrial strain of cannabis” as one with a THC level lower than 0.2% and which was approved by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development or recognized as an industrial strain by the European Union.[24]  Similar draft bills legalizing the use of industrial stains of cannabis were submitted in the preceding session of the Knesset.[25]

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Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
July 2016


[1] Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (New Version), 5733-1973, § 11, 3 Laws of the State of Israel 5 (1981), as amended.

[2] Id. § 12.

[3] Id. First Schedule.

[4] Id. § 7(c); Penal Law, 5733-1977, § 61(a)(4), Sefer HaHukim [SH] [Book of Laws] (official gazette) 5733 No. 864 p. 226, as amended.

[5] Id. § 7(d).

[6] Attorney General Directive, Prosecution Policy – Drugs: Possession and Use for Personal Consumption § 7(b), Directive No. 4.1105 (51.056) (Dec. 1, 1985, updated on Sept. 14, 2003), http://index.justice.gov.il/Units/ YoezMespati/HanchayotNew/Seven/41105.pdf (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/B4US-V8V9.

[7] Id. § 7(c).

[8] Id.

[9] National Authority for Fighting Drugs and Misuse of Alcohol Law, 5748-1988, SH 5748 No. 1252 p. 90.

[10] Israel Anti-Drug Authority, IADA, http://www.antidrugs.org.il/english/template/default.aspx?catid=248 (last visited June 21, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/RJF8-Q3ZL.

[11] Legalization and Decriminalization, IADA, http://www.antidrugs.org.il/template/default.aspx?catid=109 (in Hebrew; last visited June 21, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/FY3B-CLTL (translation by author).

[12] Id.

[13] Private Member Bills for Preliminary Hearing, http://knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/Plaw_display.asp?lawtp=1 (in Hebrew; last visited June 22, 2016) (use סמים מסוכנים [dangerous drugs] as a search term in middle box at top of page; for text of bills, click on any listed bill), archived at https://perma.cc/SZ6R-Q4T4.  

[14] Sharren Haskel, The Knesset, http://www.knesset.gov.il/mk/eng/mk_eng.asp?mk_individual_id_t=950 (last visited June 22, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/B9UL-XTZF.

[15] Dov Khenin, The Knesset, http://www.knesset.gov.il/mk/eng/mk_eng.asp?mk_individual_id_t=780 (last visited June 22, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/A5ZD-DC66.

[16] Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (Possession or Use for Personal Consumption of a Drug Containing Cannabis or Cannabis Resin) Private Member Draft Bill No. 3020, 5776-2016, § 1, http://knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/Plaw_ display.asp?lawtp=1, archived at https://perma.cc/9ZUD-CR4X.

[17] Id. at 2.

[18] Id.

[19] Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (Definition of Cannabis Plant) Private Member Draft Bill No. 2874, 5776-2016,http://knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/Plaw_display.asp?lawtp=1, archived at https://perma.cc/4B2E-BJ75.

[20] Id.

[21] See Application for a Permit to Hold and Use Cannabis, Ministry of Health, http://www.health.gov.il/ English/Services/Citizen_Services/Pages/kanabis.aspx (last visited June 29, 2016), archived at https://perma. cc/4PN2-UGJJ.

[22] Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (Definition of Medical Cannabis) Private Member Draft Bill No. 2855, 5776-2016, available at Private Member Bills for Preliminary Hearing, http://knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/Plaw_display. asp?lawtp=1, archived at https://perma.cc/R2R6-JH2X.

[23] Id. at 1 (translation by author).

[24] Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (Industrial Strains of Cannabis) Private Member Draft Bill No. 2688, 5776-2016, http://knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/Plaw_display.asp?lawtp=1, archived at https://perma.cc/ZHU9-84KW.

[25] Id.