Introducing a new cannabis decriminalisation policy: The unintentional effects on cannabis perceptions and use among Israeli youth
Like in many European and North American countries, Israel also experienced an intensive public debate leading to significant changes in cannabis policy. Both for medical and non-medical use. In many countries, new policies have been implemented to enable the prescription of Marijuana to treat medical conditions. In many countries, public debate regarding legalization or decriminalization of cannabis has been growing consistently. Several countries or states have already implemented new policies that legalize the use and production of cannabis for personal-recreational purposes. Many others have implemented various models of de-criminalization. In Israel, for the past 5 years, the issue of cannabis use has been in a central focus of intensive public debate. A small vocal lobby of opinion leaders, including parliament (Knesset) members, journalists and celebrities, have been aggressively pushing for legalization. In addition, Israel has become one of the leading country worldwide, in developing and implementing regulations to provide marijuana for medical use leading recently to a government decision to permit the legal production and export of medical products of cannabis – resulting in a “gold-rush” of agriculture and business organizations to the new market. In response to the ongoing public debates, the Minister of Public Security announced the implementation of a new national decriminalization policy in which 1st, 2nd and 3rd time offenders will be fined with increasing sums, and criminalization will be enforced only at the 4th encounter. The official rational for the new policy was to be more social-friendly to occasional first time users and to free funds for education and prevention activities. The new policy will only be implemented at the end of February 2019. Unfortunately, the lack of public preparation resulted in a public perception that the new policy is a first step towards legalization. Consequently, rates of cannabis increased instead of decreased.
- finding of major population surveys have shown significant increases in the prevalence of cannabis in both school and out-of-school youth populations. The 2014 and the current 2019 HBSC surveys show the rates of cannabis use (ever) among 15-17-year-old school children increase from about 6% in 2011 to over 10% in 2014 and finally to 11.4% in 2019 (8.6% during the past 12 months). A national rate that doubled its magnitude in a matter of 8 years. Findings of the 2017 national survey of out-of-school youth, ages 15-19, show that 25% of this at-risk population used cannabis at least once during the past 12 months, compared to only 15% in 2009.
The presentation will discuss the effects of the implementation of the new policies – (1) relating to the encouragement of production and export of medical marijuana, and (2) relating to the decriminalization model. These effects include the need to change prevention messages and programs accordingly, educate the public about the danger of leisure cannabis use – especially by children, youth and vulnerable populations, and follow-up the implementation process with an evaluation research system.