Georgia is one of the few European countries that can brag about having mountains with elevations of over 4,000 metres and direct access to a sea or ocean. Also, cannabis is theoretically legal in Georgia.
Even though it’s not a particularly popular holiday destination, Georgia can impress anyone with its breathtaking landscapes, beautiful fortified churches and delicious food.
That being said, when it comes to cannabis, Georgia is a land of contrasts. The possession of cannabis is legal, but selling it is illegal, so users cannot procure cannabis legally.
So, let’s take a look at the legal situation of cannabis in Georgia.
How street protests led to marijuana legalisation in Georgia
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia had a repressive no-tolerance drug policy that was made even worse in 2006, when the already harsh drug laws were strengthened. The 2006 law changes led to the mass incarceration of drug users and extensive street drug testing practices.
And, as always, strict laws gave way to abuse. In one case, a 22-year-old man in western Georgia took his own life after the police pressured him to reveal the identity of people dealing with cannabis in his town.
In another case, a 56-year-old taxi driver was detained and taken to the local police station to undergo drug tests. The man was unable to provide a urine sample on demand, so the police officers gave him two diuretics to speed up the process.
The driver’s drug tests came back negative, but the diuretics lowered his blood pressure so much that he died.
Both cases upset the general population, and people took their anger and turned it into street protests. The protesters claimed that these two cases were not special cases but were part of a general problem. They said that Georgia’s police force stops young men at random, forcing them to undergo drug tests without any grounds for suspicion.
More than 300,000 people, which means almost 10 percent of Georgia’s 3.7 million population, were forced to take drug tests between 2006 and 2016.
Cannabis decriminalisation in Georgia
In 2015, the country’s Constitutional Court prohibited law enforcement agencies from apprehending Georgian cannabis users in a historic ruling.
The Court decided that Georgia’s cannabis laws needed to be relaxed after examining the claim of Beka Tsikarishvili, a Georgian citizen who was detained for possessing 65 grams of cannabis in June 2013.
According to the existing laws, Tsikarishvili should have been sentenced to seven to 14 years of jail because the law regarded anything over 50 grams of cannabis as a ‘large amount’. But Tsikarishvili contested this sentence saying that the entire quantity of cannabis was intended for personal use.
The charges against Tsikarishvili sparked large-scale protests across the country, with actors, singers, local artists and others joining a campaign called ‘Beka is not a criminal’. The protesters marched in the streets and made posters and petitions asking lawmakers to legalise marijuana.
After examining the case, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Tsikarishvili because the judges could not find any indication that he intended to sell the cannabis. The Court also said that the country’s laws were ‘inappropriately strict’ for cannabis users because it treated them and cannabis dealers in the same way.
The Court asked the country’s lawmakers to come up with specific criteria to help judges determine whether a person is guilty of dealing cannabis or if the possession is for personal use. And, according to the Court’s ruling, a prison sentence would be too harsh for recreational users, so cannabis possession was downgraded to a misdemeanour, which is punishable by a fine.
From decriminalisation to marijuana legalisation
Now, the 2015 ruling didn’t legalise cannabis — it didn’t even touch the subject. However, legalisation supporters in Georgia saw the ruling as a huge step forward because it virtually decriminalised cannabis possession of up to 70 grams of dried plant matter.
Then, in 2017, in another historic ruling, Georgia’s Constitutional Court decriminalised cannabis use entirely. The Court ruled that personal use of cannabis, whether for medical or recreational purposes, must not be a criminal offence.
Lastly, in July 2018, the Constitutional Court abolished the administrative punishments for cannabis consumption, declaring it legal for consumption. However, the Court’s ruling only legalised cannabis consumption, marijuana cultivation and selling remain illegal.
The Court established that marijuana consumption is not a social threat and can only harm the user’s health. Thus, users are responsible for the outcome of their actions. However, the Court’s ruling explicitly mentions that cannabis users will be held responsible if they put a third party at risk.
Thus, marijuana consumption is prohibited in educational institutions, public places, including public transportation, and in the presence of children.
The cannabis landscape in Georgia is complicated
Nowadays, the cannabis landscape in Georgia is a complicated one. On the one hand, cannabis possession and use are legal, but, on the other hand, growing and selling cannabis are not.
So, you cannot legally procure cannabis, and you cannot grow it yourself. As a result, getting cannabis in Georgia is almost impossible for tourists who are not familiar with the locals.
You could even argue that cannabis legalisation created some unique problems in Georgia. Since there’s a legal framework for possession and consumption, and the production is very low, there’s a lot of fake or synthetic weed going around.
As far as medical cannabis is concerned, there’s no governmental medical system in place. As a result, patients cannot consult with a doctor regarding cannabis treatments, and they cannot get hold of cannabis legally.
Georgia is stuck in cannabis limbo
At the moment, Georgia seems to be stuck in cannabis limbo. The country has legalised cannabis but still prohibits its cultivation and distribution, making it difficult to access.
This could represent a missed opportunity for a country that earns about 7.2 percent of its GDP from tourism. Most of the tourists that visit Georgia come from countries like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, Turkey and Iran — countries that haven’t legalised cannabis use and are nearby.
By creating a legal cannabis industry, Georgia could attract cannabis tourists from all over the world and turn its legal situation into a profitable framework.