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Parliamentary hearings around Georgia’s drug decriminalisation bill, scheduled to take off on 28 November, have been postponed. The move has prompted anger amongst the authors of the bill and drug policy activists.
According to the White Noise Movement (WNM), a group campaigning for a softer drug policy and a co-author of the bill, the authors were only notified of the postponement late evening on 27 November, and were given no explanation.
A number of parties, including non-government policymakers were planning to attend the parliamentary hearing, which was to be headed by three parliamentary committees.
Mariam Jashi, the head of Parliament’s Educational Committee the told Liberali the process would continue ‘in about a week’, and the session was postponed so that ‘opinions between the group of authors and the government are made consistent with one another’.
‘As soon as the positions are reconciled, we will continue discussions’, she added.
If passed, the bill would decriminalise possession of all drugs. It has been developed by Tbilisi-based advocacy group the National Drug Policy Platform (NDPP), which consists of over 40 NGOs, and was put before Parliament by the Health Committee in June.
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‘Unfortunately, Parliament’s decision makes us think that the authorities do not see the vital importance of the reform, are calling on us to be flexible with the content and format of it, but are not following the declared plans and promises, which indicates the unfairness of the process’, the NDPP said in a statement on 28 November.
According to them, drug policy activists do not see any room for compromise.
The core principle of the changes would be to move the country’s drug policy away from a criminal justice approach, treating drug use instead as a public health issue. According to the authors of the bill, current drug policy concentrates on punishing drug addicts, instead of treating them. If the bill is adopted, distribution and trafficking of drugs would still be treated as a criminal offence.
Drug policy groups have planned a large-scale demonstration on 10 December, which marks a year since one of the largest such rallies in Tbilisi.