TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Israel could soon decriminalize personal use and possession of marijuana, a leading government official said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said if the government approves his policy suggestion, those caught possessing or smoking small amounts of marijuana would face fines instead of arrested and prosecuted, similar to approaches taken in many US states.

“This would mean moving to administrative fines, and criminal prosecution would only be a last resort,” Erdan said.

Up to 15 grams of cannabis would be decriminalized under Erdan’s proposal, which he says could help police focus on more serious matters.

“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.

Fines, which have yet to be determined but are likely to be around 1,000 shekel (approximately $265 USD) for a first offense, would be issued to first and second time offenders. Fines would likely be doubled for a second offense.  Third time offenders could face criminal charges if police deem it necessary, and could also risk losing driving and firearm privileges.  Those caught a fourth time would be indicted on criminal charges.

“On the one hand we are not giving up the option for criminal enforcement,” said Erdan, “but on the other we are moving the focus and weight of our policy to education and treatment.”

Enforcement would likely only apply to those caught smoking marijuana in public. Home use and possession of marijuana would no longer be a punishable offense, although it would remain technically illegal to do so.

If Erdan’s plan is approved by the government, it would take effect within three months, Erdan said.

The proposed policy change would not affect the country’s estimated 10,000 licensed medical marijuana patients.

Erdan hinted that the policy change could be the first step in further reforming marijuana laws in Israel, including the possibility of future legalization.

“If data shows that in spite of criminal enforcement there is no reduction in the number of cannabis users, than we must examine if and how we can remove the criminal component either fully or partially,” he added.

Legalizing the retail production and sale of marijuana in Israel could generate approximately 1.6 billion sheckels ($450 million USD) in tax revenue and law enforcement savings annually, according to an economic assessment published in 2013.

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