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Cannabis Use Decriminalised in Georgia, Following Court Ruling

The use of cannabis will no longer be considered a criminal offence in Georgia, following a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court.

The ruling, which took place on November 30, declared that it is unconstitutional to prosecute someone for using cannabis. Someone found using cannabis can no longer face criminalisation or imprisonment, although they can face an administrative sanction – a fine of up to GEL 500 (137 GBP/185 USD).

The court ruled that cannabis use will no longer fall under Article 273 of Georgia’s Criminal Code, which punishes the "illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage or illegal consumption without medical prescription of drugs" with imprisonment, among other penalties. It justified this ruling by highlighting that there was no evidence that the effects of cannabis would increase the likelihood of someone committing a crime or a violation of public order.

The new ruling has not changed legislation, as the court does not have the power to do this, but it has made an aspect of existing legislation void. The chair of the government’s health committee, Akaki Zoidze, has said that new legislation will be drafted by parliament in the next year so that the national cannabis policy will reflect the court’s decision.

This ruling does not herald the legal regulation of cannabis, such as the approach which is currently implemented in Uruguay and several US states. The purchase and sale of the drug will continue to be criminalised under Georgian law, with offenders facing prison sentences.

Cannabis offences have been met with harsh punishments in Georgia during the past decade. As TalkingDrugs has previously reported, an amendment to the Georgian Criminal Code in 2006 led to the possession of a small quantity of cannabis being punished by up to 11 years in prison, while possessing a large quantity could be punished by between seven and 14 years.  In 2015, amendments reduced these punishments to six years for a small quantity, and between five and eight years for a large quantity. Georgian drug law enforcement has also come under intense scrutiny for imposing compulsory drug tests upon random members of the public.

The Constitutional Court’s decision comes amid a wider push for human rights-oriented drug policies being spearheaded by the White Noise Movement, a campaign group working to end repressive Georgian drug policies. Paata Sabelashvil, a member of this group, says that Georgian policymakers have been resistant to decriminalising drug use partly because law enforcement financially benefit from the criminalisation of people who use drugs. “One third of people in prison are in for drug-related offences”, he told TalkingDrugs, and “they try to improve their crime statistics through arresting more people on drug charges”.

It is yet to be seen if campaigners will have similar success in Georgia’s Constitutional Court when it comes to other illegal drugs.

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