The Catalyst for Cannabis Decriminalization in the Nation of Georgia

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On Nov. 30, the highest court in the Republic of Georgia ruled that criminal prosecution for consuming cannabis was against the nation’s constitution. The historic decision decriminalized marijuana consumption for the citizens of the former Soviet nation.

The catalyst responsible for this momentous act of reform originated from a Georgian man named Givi Shanidze, who had a criminal case against him for repeated marijuana use. Shanidze felt that it was his personal choice to smoke cannabis, so he filed a complaint with the constitutional court with the support of the Girchi political party, arguing that prosecuting an individual for the consumption of cannabis was against basic human rights. The court agreed and now parliamentarians are tasked with adopting this decision into law.

“We started this case a couple of months ago,” said Zurab Japaridze, the chairman of Girchi, in an interview with Marijuana.com. “We claimed that punishing people for just smoking marijuana is unconstitutional and goes against human rights.”

Japaridze added that although the court’s decision is “a huge step forward,” Girchi is not yet satisfied with the current status of cannabis in Georgia. “We will fight until we get full legalization of marijuana, not only consumption but also profession, trade, etc.,” he said. “We want marijuana to be regulated in a similar way as we have alcohol or tobacco.”

Serious discussions around cannabis reform came to a head on Dec. 31, 2016, when Girchi planted 84 marijuana seeds in their head office. The act of civil disobedience was twofold: bring attention to the issue and also test law enforcement to see if the police would arrest numerous members of a political party for cannabis cultivation.

“If you go back just one year when we planted those marijuana seeds, after that we had an enormous amount of debate on TV,” said Japaridze. “Public opinion shifted towards the idea that people should not be punished for consumption.”

Japaridze went on to say his hope is this current government and future administrations will realize the profit potential for cannabis in the nation, and currently, all that revenue is being absorbed by the black market.

A burning question that exists is why the Republic of Georgia is more progressive on cannabis reform than its various neighboring nations. “There are many reasons,” said Japaridze. “First of all, consumption of marijuana is a traditional thing for Georgia. We have our old Georgian types of marijuana that you will not find anywhere in the world. We are [also] the most developed democracy in our region.”

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett

About Author

Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.

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