THC – short for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol – is the compound in cannabis responsible for all the hype and the one that has the mind-altering effects. But why is it still illegal in the country where it was first discovered?
Cannabis has been around for millennia, and has been used by millions of people throughout the ages and across different cultures for a wide variety of reasons; usually medicinal ones. And while people across the globe have enjoyed cannabis and used it to help with anxiety, pain, and insomnia, to name just a few, it wasn’t until the 1960s when Professor Raphael Mechoulam – a Bulgarian immigrant to Israel – isolated THC for research along with a colleague, Professor Y Gaoni.
The two men worked together at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for many years on the isolation, structure elucidation and total synthesis of THC. They also identified cannabis receptors in the brain and other organs, which make up part of the Endocannabinoid System present in all humans.
Mechoulam and his colleagues, interested in the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids, isolated THC, CBD and other compounds to be used for specific treatments or reasons. And while Israelis enjoy a robust medical cannabis program, it’s hard and frustrating to join it, as doctors try to suppress symptoms more readily with pharmaceutical drugs.
The good news is that, according to a report in Forbes and The Times of Israel, won’t carry a criminal proceeding but will result in a fine. Anyone who doesn’t already have a criminal record who is caught in possession of personal amounts of cannabis will face an initial $275 fine. The second fine goes up to $550 and a third offense within seven years would then see the possibility of criminal proceedings taking place.
The new policy has been criticized for not specifying the amount of cannabis considered to be for “personal use.” That determination is left up to the police officer involved, but the authority has previously mentioned the 15-gram mark as the maximum for personal use. Nevertheless, the cannabis found will be confiscated by the police, and the fine will need to be paid within 90 days. People with a medical cannabis permit in Israel will not get fined if caught with cannabis, as long as they can produce a valid medical cannabis card.
Some senior officials in the Israeli government approved the new law amid calls to make cannabis legal in the Jewish State. Israel already has at least 21,000 who are licensed to use cannabis medically, and that number is growing all the time.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan spoke to reporters about the new policy, saying it was an “important step” that “shifted the focus from the criminal process to fines, education, public information, and rehabilitation,” according to The Times of Israel. Israeli police generally won’t take issue with a first-time offender even in public as the number of criminal proceedings would be completely overwhelming.
When all is said and done, Israel finds itself in a quagmire when it comes to the legality of cannabis; similar in many ways to the situation in Holland. Over there, it’s technically illegal to grow, sell or buy cannabis, although it’s use is tolerated in specially designated “Coffeshops.” Technically THC is still illegal under the law in Israel; the country where it was first discovered and isolated.
It remains to be seen how the new decriminalization for personal amounts of cannabis will work, and if it will prove to be a step in the right direction or just another money-spinner for the Anti-Drug Authority.