Israel acts to decriminalize small-scale marijuana use

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel plans to decriminalize personal marijuana use, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Thursday, adopting an approach similar to some U.S. states and European countries.

Erdan said that if the government approves his new policy, those caught smoking marijuana would be fined rather than arrested and prosecuted. Criminal procedures would be launched only against those caught repeatedly.

“Police will be able to redirect resources ... away from normative personal users and focus instead on dangerous drugs,” Erdan told a news conference in Tel Aviv.

Marijuana use is fairly common in Israel. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that almost nine percent of Israelis use cannabis.

According to data presented to parliament by the Internal Security Ministry in December, enforcement against personal marijuana users has dropped by 30 percent since 2010.

Figures presented to the Justice Ministry showed only 188 people were arrested in 2015 for smoking marijuana, a 56 percent drop since 2010.

If the new policy is approved by the government, it will take effect within three months, Erdan said.

In the United States, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and since 2012, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have also approved marijuana for recreational use.

Israel is one of the world leaders in medical marijuana research, and about 10,000 people have a license to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mark Heinrich