A bill to decriminalize cannabis use passed was unanimously in its first reading in Israel‘s parliament.
The proposal would mean those caught smoking marijuana would be fined rather than arrested and prosecuted.
First-time offenders would be fined 1,000 shekels (£209), second-time offenders fined double and those caught a third time would face a “probation” period.
Only on the fourth offence could individuals be subject to criminal proceedings.
Minors caught smoking cannabis would be prosecuted if they refuse to attend a rehabilitation program.
Presenting the bill in the Knesset in Jerusalem, Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan said the country wanted to “reduce the harms of drug usage” and avoid stigmatizing those who seldom use the drug as criminals, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“The law is far from perfect, but it’s a foot in the door on the way to full legalization”, Tamar Zandberg, MK for the green Meretz party, said, according to the Times of Israel. “There is a lot of work ahead.”
The bill will need to pass two further readings before it becomes law.
Almost 9 per cent of Israelis use marijuana, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Around 25,000 of the country’s eight million people have a license to use the drug for medicinal purposes.
Last year, hundreds of Israelis gathered for a sit-down protest outside the Knesset to call for the full legalization of marijuana.
As part of the “420” tradition, held every 20 April since the 1970s, they light joints when the clock struck 4.20pm.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, a UK charity which campaigns on issues of drug use and drug laws, told The Independent: “This is a pragmatic and evidence-based move by the Israeli parliament.
“Across the world 26 countries have ended criminal sanctions for either possession of all drugs or for cannabis; none experienced an increase in use as a result of the reforms.
“More importantly, many jurisdictions including Portugal and several states in Australia reported better health, social and economic outcomes, as well as a reduction in reoffending.”
In the UK, sentencing for the possession of cannabis, a Class B drug varies between a £90 on-the-spot fine and a five-year prison sentence.
Twenty-nine states in the US have legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes and several have approved marijuana for recreational use.