Following a wave of church-led protests, the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party has decided to backtrack on the draft bill envisaging legalization of medical marijuana cultivation and production for export purposes.
Speaking to reporters on September 16, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said the GDDG would not take “a hasty” decision on the legislation, and would instead, invest in informing the public of its true objectives, including through consultations with the Patriarchate.
The Parliament Speaker stressed the citizens were “misled” by GDDG opponents that the legislation entails legalization of production and sale of drugs.
“The society is not properly informed; there are false information being spread, there are speculations, so we need to pay particular attention to informing the public and decide [on the legislation] together with them,” Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said.
Kobakhidze, however, stressed the bill on marijuana consumption is “an urgent matter” and will be taken up next week.
The Church Protests
The Parliament Speaker’s statement followed the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate’s heavy criticism of the proposed legislation.
Senior Orthodox clerics voiced their initial objections on September 12, at a conference convened by the Patriarchate – Drug Policy in Georgia-Challenges and International Practice.
“Legalization of cultivation and involvement of the authorities in production and sales is unacceptable, and carries many risks, both in terms of implementation and foreign security risks,” reads the conference participants’ appeal to the authorities.
Addressing the conference, the Georgian Patriarch’s Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Shio Mujiri, said marijuana consumption “goes against our religion and traditional family values, which the Church will never agree to.”
Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II commented on the issue in his Sunday sermon, saying: “the authorities need to bear responsibility and be in charge of the matter; this field should not be transferred to the private sector. If it does, it will be hard to control it.”
“Why do we need the economic benefits, if the price to pay is to lose our children,” he added.
Orthodox clerics convened two rallies against the bill in the last few days. A small-scale rally was held on September 15, and a larger demonstration took place following Patriarch Illia II’s sermon on September 16, with hundreds of church-goers marching from the Holy Trinity Cathedral to the Freedom Square to express their objections to the proposed legislation.
The authorities unveiled the draft legislation on industrial cultivation of cannabis on September 11, with Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze telling reporters that the government initiated “strict” regulations on cannabis production, considering “the risks of leaving the field without regulatory framework.”
On September 15, Finance Minister Ivane Machavariani stressed the proposed bill would help Georgia tap into a growing international market. He also said the government expected at least GEL 1 billion (USD 384 million) in revenues from export of cannabis-based products in the following 2-3 years.