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Protesters Demand Drug Policy Liberalization

Hundreds of activists gathered yesterday outside the Parliament building in the center of Tbilisi to reiterate their calls for drug policy liberalization.

The rally was announced following the Tbilisi City Court’s January 23 ruling, which sentenced Giorgi Giorganashvili, a Georgian actor, to eight years in prison on charges of purchasing and possessing large amount of drugs.

The organizers, among them representatives of the White Noise movement and 19 other civil society groups, said the court ruling “once again legitimized the inhumane and repressive drug policy in Georgia.”

The civil society activists argued in their remarks at the rally that the penalty used against the detainee was too strict, while some protesters said drugs were planted by the police. They also demanded Giorganashvili’s immediate release and holding the police officers accountable.

Some representatives of parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition joined the rally as well, including members of the United National Movement and the European Georgia.

Speaking on the matter on January 25, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said Giorganashvili’s case demonstrated “the strict and repressive drug regulations of the Criminal Code of Georgia.” “The Public Defender of Georgia calls on the Parliament to prioritize the issue and to discuss and adopt the bill, drafted by the National Drug Policy Platform, as soon as possible,” reads the statement.

Under the current legislation, first-time use of drugs is punished by an administrative fine, while repeated use of drugs results in criminal liability – corrective labor or imprisonment for a term of up to one year.

The Parliament of Georgia is currently processing the CSO-drafted legislative amendments, which, if approved, will release use of drugs for personal purposes as well as possession of small amount of drugs from criminal liability. Moreover, public agencies will be obliged to carry out measures aimed at reducing health, social and economic harms caused by drug use.

The bill was registered in the Parliament in June 2017 as a legislative proposal of five ruling party lawmakers, but due to lack of consensus within the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, its discussion has been delayed.

The Parliament’s committee on health issues approved the bill on December 27 with its first reading, but seven ruling party lawmakers boycotted the committee sitting, claiming decriminalization would have adverse effects and promote drug use.

The Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch voiced his objections to drug policy liberalization, saying in his Christmas epistle that young people should be “protected” against this “gravest disease.” In its statement on January 12, the Church also  stressed the CSO-drafted bill failed to reflect a number of issues, which “highlighted the need to halt its discussions [in the Parliament].”

Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia commented on drug policy reform as well, stressing a day before the court ruling that “humane and complex drug policy is the only solution,” also adding that “strict measures should be maintained and even tightened” with respect to drug trafficking/distribution.

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