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A new bill on cannabis has been introduced to parliament by Georgia’s Interior Ministry which would fully legalise consumption at home while still imposing fines for the purchase and possession of the drug. The draft law, which came in response to a Constitutional Court ruling legalising cannabis use, has faced criticism from both conservatives and rights groups.
The bill, published on Monday, would maintain penalties for public use of cannabis allowing cannabis use only at home those over 21 years old. The list of restricted areas would include public spaces, such as streets, parks, airports, vehicles, concert halls, bars, restaurants and more as well as consuming cannabis at work. It proposes a ₾500–₾1000 fine for a first offence and up to ₾1,500 for repeat offenders.
In addition to fines, the bill would introduce criminal penalties for using cannabis in the presence of children and while driving a vehicle.
Ban on buying or possessing cannabis
While the bill would make it fully legal to use cannabis at home, it leaves no legal means to possess or acquire it. It would maintain a ₾500 administrative fine for possession of cannabis in small quantities and for repeat offences within a year, criminal punishment of a minimum ₾1,500 fine or up to 100–160 hours of community work.
Georgian law defines a small quantity as under 5 grammes for dried cannabis and under 10 grammes for raw.
On 19 September, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a local rights group, issued a statement arguing that parts of the proposed regulations were unconstitutional or conflicted with the constitutional court’s ruling that triggered the need for new legislation.
On 30 July, in response to a lawsuit brought by non-parliamentary opposition party Girchi, the court ruled that punishments for the consumption of cannabis were unconstitutional, as it was ‘an action protected by the right to a person’s free development’, article 16 of the constitution.
‘The [new] bill excludes every possibility of acquiring cannabis and deems it a entirely illegal’, GYLA’s statement said. ‘Because of this, in order to exercise one’s constitutional right, a person has to go through an illegal procedure, which indirectly means punishment for consuming cannabis’.
On 19 September, parliament’s legal committee approved the bill after a heated debate involving around a dozen Orthodox priests. The clergy urged the government to reverse the decision of the constitutional court, which has ruled that consuming cannabis shouldn’t be punishable except where it puts a third person at risk. MPs have responded that they are unable to ignore the court’s decision.
They have already marched against the bill, warning of ‘danger it can cause’, after which, the second part of the bill regulating production and export of cannabis was put on hold.
[Read more about Church’s protest and hold on bill on OC Media: Cannabis production bill on hold in Georgia after Church protests]
GYLA’s chairman, Sulkhan Saladze, insisted at the legal committee sitting that despite their criticisms regarding some of the articles in the bill, it was crucial to adopt it.
‘This bill, even in its current form, cannot worsen the severity of the current situation. The current reality is worse, given that after the court’s ruling, this sphere is unregulated. That’s why adoption of this bill is crucial’, said Saladze.
Deputy Interior Minister Natia Mezvrishvili elaborated on what she called an ‘illogical situation’ after being asked whether the ban on buying cannabis could push the trade to the black market. She said that they were keeping ‘this part of the legislation’ untouched in order to avoid contributing to drug use.
‘If you’d like to know my personal opinion on this illogical situation, I agree that yes, this decision has to some extent created the possibility for uncontrolled purchasing and possession, but our obligation is to reduce these kinds of cases to minimum and introduce new regulations if needed’, said Mezvrishvili.
The second part of the bill — export
Plans to legalise the production and licensing of cannabis for export which were originally part of the new legislation were put on hold after protests from the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II, spoke out against producing cannabis in Georgia, warning it would spread drug addiction in the country. In his sermon on 16 September, he said ‘the government should take responsibility and full control. The private sector must not be involved in this field’, adding that ‘our government doesn’t have any less love for our country [than we do]’. This led to speculation that the Church only objected to production being in private hands.
However, on 18 September Patriarchate of Georgia clarified their stance in a statement, saying ‘the Orthodox Church of Georgia, its ruler, clergy, and faithful nation are categorically against any kind of cultivation and selling of any kind of cannabis’.
[Read more about Georgia’s plan to export Cannabis: Georgia may export cannabis]