Georgian officials to withdraw cannabis export bill after meeting Patriarch

2 November 2018
Giorgi Gakharia and Irakli Kobakhidze meet the patriarch (patriarchate.ge)

Georgia is to withdraw a cannabis cultivation bill after a meeting between senior officials and the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The government also said they would discuss ways to legally limit the Constitutional Court’s rulings on drug policy.

Far-right group Georgian March congratulated its followers for ‘making officials withdraw the bill’.

On 2 October, Chair of Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze and Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia held a meeting with Church head Patriarch Ilia II at the patriarchate. Their meeting lasted for around an hour, after which officials told media they would withdraw the marijuana cultivation bill.

‘We took the position of the Church into consideration as well as other religious groups’ stands on the issue. And of course, we considered the feelings of the general population regarding this bill. This is the final decision’, Kobakhidze told journalists.

He added that Georgian Dream-backed presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili had been urging officials not to delay in withdrawing the bill and confirmed the move was connected with the elections.

‘We had said the decision would be made with a wide consensus, including consultation with the church. This is connected with the elections, I can tell you this. Yesterday, when Salome Zurabishvili was talking about her position, she strengthened her stance with the arguments she heard in her meetings with the public in the regions’, said Kobakhidze.

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia said the Georgian Dream Party had decided to withdraw the bill earlier ‘because of the public reaction’.

‘This position is also shared by the patriarch and the patriarchate, therefore we promised to withdraw the bill in the nearest future. It means that this subject is closed’, said Gakharia.

The Church later issued a statement expressing their contentedness with the move.

‘The recent problematic decisions of the Constitutional Court were also discussed during the meeting. It’s been mentioned that it’s very important to confer the Constitutional Court’s rulings with the highest legitimacy, for which corresponding steps must be taken’, their statement read.

The cannabis export bill and Constitutional Court ruling

The bill on cultivating and exporting cannabis was drafted by the Interior Ministry. One of the initiators of the bill was Georgia’s ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who currently chairs the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The bill was tabled by the ministry after the Constitutional Court outlawed all punishment for cannabis consumption in Georgia in July. The government is required to amend Georgian legislation to make it compatible with the ruling.

[Read more about the constitutional court’s cannabis use ruling: Constitutional court outlaws all punishment for cannabis consumption in Georgia]

The ministry’s proposed bill consisted of two parts, one outlawing punishment for cannabis consumption at home and another regulating cannabis cultivation for export — an initiative unconnected to the Constitutional Court ruling.

Officials had said exporting Cannabis could boost the Georgian economy by strengthening the national currency. They had said the cannabis they planned to export would have been used for producing medical cannabis products.

[Read more about the cannabis use regulation bill on OC Media: Georgia’s cannabis bill to allow home use only]

After the meeting with the Patriarch, Kobakhidze said the government was considering limiting the Constitutional Court’s power in the field of drug policy.

‘It is possible we will discuss limiting the constitutional court’s power in the field of drug use and drug policy in general. We will start drafting the corresponding bill quite soon’, said Kobakhidze.

[Read more about MIA’s cannabis export bill on OC Medial: Georgia may export cannabis]

Controversies around cannabis bill

The bill was put on hold in September after the patriarch spoke out against producing cannabis in Georgia, warning it would spread drug addiction in the country.

In a sermon at Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral on 16 September, the patriarch warned that ‘the production [of cannabis] should not become a part of the private sector. If it is part of the private sector, we will not be able to control it […]because drug addicts will start coming from foreign countries to enjoy this freedom.’

After the patriarch’s service, a group of priests and worships, as well as members of the Union of Orthodox Parents, marched in protest to Freedom Square.

The bill has also been strongly criticised by the Georgian far-right groups. After Kobakhidze and Gakharia announced the withdrawal, local far-right group Georgian March congratulated its followers on the facebook.

‘Georgian March congratulates you. We’ve made them withdraw the marijuana bill. May God bless you’, the group posted on Facebook.

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