A bill to soften criminal penalties surrounding cannabis passed its first hearing in Georgia’s Parliament on 16 June. If the bill is adopted, the courts will no longer sentence people to prison for planting, cultivating, purchasing, storing, and consuming cannabis. However, these actions will still be punished under the criminal code.
According to the amendments, planting cannabis will be punished by 160–220 hours of community service. Parliament has yet to decide whether to impose a fine of ₾300 ($125) or ₾500 ($210) for illegally producing, purchasing, transporting, distributing, or consuming dried and crude cannabis without a doctor’s prescription. Parliament will discuss this on the second hearing before finalising the amendment on the third.
The change comes after Georgia’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, ruled in 2016 that imprisoning people for possession and consumption of cannabis was unconstitutional. The court made its decision after Georgia’s Public Defender filed a lawsuit demanding the suspension of imprisonment for this crime, as it is ‘irrelevant, too strict, and degrading’.
The measures fall short of decriminalisation, which has been demanded by several rights groups, as the offenses will still be punished under the criminal code.
They have vowed to continue to fight against the harsh drug policy in the country, claiming that they are often used as a tool for the authorities to lock people up. Several recent drug cases have led to speculation by some that the laws are being abused.
Georgian actor Giorgi Giorganashvili was arrested in January 2017 for ‘purchasing and storing especially large amount of buprenorphine (opioid often sold under the brand name Subutex) and faces sentences of either 8–20 years or life in prison. Giorganashvili claims the police planted drugs on him, arguing that two policemen searched him without a witness. Giorganashvili has vowed to fight the charges in court.
Georgian rap duo the Birja Mafia were detained in Tbilisi and charged for ‘illegally purchasing and holding especially large amounts’ of the recreational psychoactive drug, MDMA. Friends and family of the accused claim that the drugs were planted on them, and that they were arrested for a recent music video they released depicting a police officer as a dog. Following a public outcry at the charges, the pair were released on bail pending their trial.
22-year-old Demur Sturua committed suicide on 7 August 2016 in Samtredia, western Georgia, leaving a note accusing policeman Goderdzi Tevzadze of harassment. Sturua’s note claimed that Tevzadze had threatened to frame him for crimes he hadn’t committed if he didn’t reveal who in the neighbourhood cultivated cannabis. Sturua also wrote that the policeman took him to a nearby village and beat him. Tevzadze was acquitted of causing the 22-year-old’s suicide on 9 June by Kutaisi City Court.