Middle East: In Battle Over Criminalizing Bongs, Israeli Justice Department Unit Calls for End to Persecuting Marijuana Users

A bill before the Israeli Knesset that would send people to prison for up to three years for possessing a bong has caused a breach in the Israeli Justice Ministry and provoked the ministry's Office of Public Defense (similar to a public defender's office in the US) to not only reject the bong bill, but also call for an end to the persecution of soft drug users. Instead, the Public Defense said, law enforcement should concentrate on large-scale dealers and traffickers.

It was the Justice Ministry's Legislative Department that drafted the bong bill, which is now before the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. In addition to three-year sentences for bong possession, the bill proposes sentences of up to five years for bong sales.

But in her recommendation to the committee, Deputy Public Defense Attorney Dr. Hagit Lernau not only ripped the bill, but the arrest of pot- and hash-smokers as well. Hagit explained the "enforcement paradox" -- that harassing casual soft drug users can create greater social harm than benefit.

"The 'enforcement paradox' is that much greater when the issue in question is the use of drugs which cause relatively little harm to users and the nature of which is infrequent and, for the most part, ends with the beginning of serious employment and a person's domestication," Lernau wrote. "It is the social effect and not the drug use itself which ends up harming individuals. It harms their ability to evolve professionally and economically and become normally integrated in society."

Lernau also took after Israeli law enforcement: "Instead of ensuring and developing the necessary services needed for education, treatment and welfare, law enforcement chooses to concentrate on expanding criminal law despite the damages this causes," she wrote. "The result of this policy is dozens of criminal indictments on possession of several grams of cannabis drugs, without any practical wisdom to support it."

Israel should follow the example of Europe instead of trying to pass silly bong laws, Lernau added. The Europeans, she wrote, "concentrate efforts on mass importing/exporting and distribution, while taking a tolerant approach of explanation and treatment/rehabilitation towards users and drug cultivators for private use."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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