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Decriminalization of Marijuana Consumption in Georgia and Political Aspects Related to it

By Vladimer Napetvaridze
Friday, December 8
Before November 30 of this year, consumption of marijuana was considered to be a criminal offense in Georgia and caused imprisonment for several years. The Constitutional Court ruled for cancellation of criminal sanctions for marijuana consumption in the country on the last day of November.

Over the years, the topic of marijuana decriminalization has gained strong political significance as the issue was widely discussed in the society and even became a subject of political manipulations.

The active campaign on liberalization of drug policies in Georgia started a few years ago, which involved initially a number of non-governmental organizations and political parties.

• On June 2, 2013, the first large-scale demonstration was organized by the White Noise Movement and other NGOs in Tbilisi demanding decriminalization of marijuana. As a result, the Constitutional Court ruled that the possession of less than 70 grams of marijuana would be punishable by only administrative fines instead of imprisonment in 2015.

• In 2016, a new regulation of the Constitutional Court stated the consumption of marijuana was not punishable by imprisonment.

• In 2016, a national platform on drug policy was created. The initiators of the idea were around 40 organizations working on drug policies;

• On December 31, New Political Center - Girchi - broadcasted a planting process of marijuana, protesting existing strict drug policies.

• On November 30, Constitutional Court cancelled criminal sanctions for marijuana consumption.

The public opinion about the country’s existing drug policy has had a big influence on the marijuana decriminalization process. The National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), carried out research in 2015, according to which 69.4% of those surveyed supported decriminalization of marijuana. 54.5% thought that people shouldn’t be arrested for the use of any drugs.

Until November 30, 2017 according to the Criminal Code of Georgia, in case a person was arrested for repeated consumption of marijuana, he/she would face to perform from 120 to 180 days of unpaid work or one year of imprisonment. According to current changes in the Criminal Code, consumption of marijuana won’t be considered as a criminal offence and a person accused of it, instead of going to prison, will be punished only by administrative fines in the amount of GEL 500.

These amendments caused dissimilar opinions among the society as well as members of the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD). Eka Beselia, head of Parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues, underlined negative aspects of the amendment.

“These changes can lead to increasing number of marijuana consumers,” stated Beselia.

Another member of GD, Giga Bukia, also criticized the decision.

“The decision of Constitutional Court actually made Georgia a hub for drug users. We - Georgians - love to be number one in everything, and now we can be proud of creating heaven for drug users," he said.

New Mayor of Tbilisi, Kakha Kaladze, stressed that though he did not approve of consumption of marijuana, nobody must be arrested for it.

Such skepticism over the decision has been caused by the country’s not so far past, when in 1990es war-torn Georgia became a hub for drug dealers and the number of drug consumers, especially among the underaged, had drastically increased. The tendency was ceased after establishing a strong anti-drug policy and ‘no-tolerance’ to drug users about a decade ago. This action has significantly decreased the cases of drug addiction, however, part of Georgian population viewed the ‘no-tolerance’ policy as too harsh to drug consumers.

The legality of cannabis for general or recreational use varies from country to country. Possession of marijuana is illegal in most countries of Europe, however, many countries, now including Georgia have decriminalized the possession of marijuana in small quantities.

Table 1. shows approaches of countries on decriminalization of marijuana