- Marijuana smokers call for politicians to stay out of their business
- Gathering held on global 'Weed Day'
As the clock struck 4:20 on 4/20, the marijuana enthusiasts began smoking, relaxing in the afternoon heat in plain view of Israel's Parliament. Notably lacking were any police officers, who remained on the outskirts of the crowd, not intervening at all in what one organizer called a "laid-back" approach.
For marijuana advocates, who have held similar rallies in the past, the gathering was an act of defiance, or perhaps even a celebration of it. At one point, the group gathered to take a group picture in front of the Knesset, using their smoking to send a message to Israel's lawmakers.
"I love weed," said Omer Dor without hesitation. "I love to smoke weed to relax with myself, and it makes me, I think, better. That's my vision, so they shouldn't tell us what to smoke and what to eat and how to dress. We should make those choices by ourselves."
It may seem unusual that a government that is conservative and largely religious chose to decriminalize marijuana, a move that was lauded by Israel's right and left. But Israel's ultra-Orthodox Health Minister, Yaakov Litzman, opened the door to decriminalizing marijuana when he approved the use of medical marijuana. Israel is considered a world leader in its production.
But it has not been fully legalized for recreational use -- and a fourth offense can land the smoker in jail.
Under the policy approved last month, first-time offenders caught using marijuana in public will be subject to a fine of approximately $250, but will not face criminal charges. The money will be used for drug rehabilitation and education. A second offense will be subject to a fine of approximately $500, while a third offense may require rehabilitation, education and a suspended driver's license. A fourth offense will be subject to prosecution and a possible prison term.
Many who came to Jerusalem to smoke pot pointed to what they call its harmlessness.
"I just want to stop getting harassed for sitting and smoking something," said Zachi Silas, who moved to Israel from England six years ago. "I would imagine that there are better things that the police could be doing and the government should be doing than telling us how to live our lives. No one here is fighting. No one here is getting hurt. No one here is dying. People here are just enjoying their life."
"People can sit with a bottle of alcohol and drink everywhere they want, but if I want to smoke a little joint, I can't," said Eden Ben-David, who took a long pull from a joint in the middle of the interview. "How does that even make sense?"