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Drug reform icon Beka Tsikarishvili avoids jail for cannabis possession

31 August 2017
Beka Tsikarishvili (Luka Pertaia/ OC Media)

Tbilisi City Court has fined Beka Tsikarishvili, who became an icon for drug reform activists in the country, with ₾2,000 ($820) for possession of 69 grammes of cannabis.

Tsikarisvhili was also banned from driving, teaching, or practicing law for the next five years, and from working in the medical and pharmaceutical sector for 10 years.

Following the verdict, Tsikarishvili posted a photo on Facebook saying ‘this is not over, time to decriminalise’].

‘I am thankful that I shared the pain of thousands of others who are charged with drug-related crimes’, Netgazeti quoted Tsikarishvili as saying on 16 August, during his trial.  

Tsikarishvili was detained in May 2013 and faced up to 14 years in prison. He spent 18 days in jail, before being released on bail.

The case led to a large-scale campaign calling for his release and softer drug laws on social media and in the streets, with the slogan ‘Beka is not a criminal’. The campaign later gave birth to drug reform group the White Noise Movement.

Drug reform has since become an important issue for the country’s youth, regularly bringing large numbers out in protest.

[Read on OC Media: Birja Mafia released on bail amid large protests in Tbilisi]

In response to the case, in 2015 Georgia’s Constitutional Court declared imprisonment for possession of 69 grammes of cannabis or less unconstitutional.  

In another Constitutional Court case in 2016, brought by Georgia’s Public Defender, who labelled imprisonment for cannabis possession ‘irrelevant, too strict, and degrading’, the court ruled imprisonment for possession and consumption of any amount of cannabis unconstitutional.

In july 2017, Parliament amended the law to comply with the ruling, imposing a fine for cannabis possession instead of jail time, but maintaining it as a criminal offence.

Several rights groups, such as the White Noise Movement, have vowed to fight on, as the measures fall short of decriminalisation.

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