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Georgia Goes for Ganja

In the midst of election turmoil in the small south Caucasus nation of Georgia, one big change went largely unnoticed. On September 29, Georgia’s Constitutional Court made a ruling that has essentially made the possession and use of marijuana legal in the conservative country.

Tabula reports that the court has “ruled that it was unconstitutional to arrest individuals for purchasing or possession of Marijuana, as there is no risk of danger to other individuals.”

The issue was brought to Georgia’s highest court after a young activist named Beka Tsikarishvili sued the government when he was arrested in 2014 and threatened with up to 14 years in prison. Mr. Tsikarishvili argued that jail sentences for possession of marijuana without the intent to distribute was a violation of his personal dignity.

In the first part of the case, decided in October 2015, the court agreed with him and struck out the section of the Georgian Criminal Code that mandated prison sentences for marijuana purchase, possession, and use, arguing that the punishment was disproportionate to the crime. The court ruled that the “possession of marijuana can only be punished by imprisonment when the intention to distribute is established by the prosecutor, or the amount of marijuana possessed by the accused is so high that it is not possible for such amount to be considered for personal use only.” So while marijuana use was technically still illegal, a harsh punishment was made impossible.

Now in a follow up to that initial decision, the Constitutional Court ruled on September 29, that people who had earlier served sentences for their use of marijuana cannot be arrested again if they are found to be utilizing the drug. Article 273 of the Georgian Criminal Code had mandated that anyone arrested for using or possessing marijuana for a second time would face a jail sentence.

Georgia’s strict drug laws have recently become something of a scandal in the country, as police officers have been accused of plucking individuals off the streets at random and forcing them to take drug tests. In 2015, a man named Levan Abzianidze died after overdosing on the pills he was made to ingest to promote urination for a drug test, and a young man recently committed suicide claiming in a note that police were trying to force him to inform on his neighbors in his village.

The combined force of these two decisions now means that Georgia has some the most relaxed marijuana laws in the former Soviet Union. But however happy Georgians may be that the strict sentences and police abuses have ended—only about 12 percent of the population approved of jail sentences for marijuana use—its actual use is still likely to remain socially frowned upon.

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