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Georgia: Marijuana Use Decriminalized

(Dec. 13, 2017) On November 30, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Georgia decriminalized the personal use of marijuana and other cannabis-based products. The Court decision, while affirming the right to use marijuana, recognized its potential health risks and did not legalize the sale, distribution, or production of marijuana; those acts are still considered crimes.  Decriminalization in the past applied only to possession of up to 70 grams of dried cannabis.  The Court’s decision, however, only applied to criminal penalties and did not end the possibility of a fine or administrative sanction for consumption of marijuana.  (Brittney Zeller, Republic of Georgia Constitutional Court Decriminalizes Marijuana Usage, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 1, 2017); Thea Morrison, Georgian Constitutional Court Decriminalizes Marijuana Consumption, GEORGIA TODAY (Nov. 30, 2017); Press Release, Constitutional Court, Decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia “Citizen of Georgia Givi Shanidze v. Parliament of Georgia” (Nov. 2017) (in Georgian).) 

The decision came in a case brought by a citizen, Givi Shanidze, who wished to have his criminal record of repeated marijuana use offenses erased. (Jon Hiltz, The Republic of Georgia Has Decriminalized Cannabis Consumption, MARIJUANA.COM (Nov. 30, 2017).) He was supported by Iago Khvichia, a member of a non-parliamentary opposition party.  (Morrison, supra.)  The suit challenged article 273 of the Criminal Code, which states that repeated preparation, purchase, or keeping of small quantities of narcotics or similar drugs for personal use, without a doctor’s prescription, after an administrative sanction has been imposed for such activities, may be punished with a fine, community service of 120 to 180 hours, or imprisonment for up to one year.  (Id.; Criminal Code of Georgia (July 22, 1999, with amendments up to Jan. 1, 2017), art. 273, LEGISLATIVE HERALD OF GEORGIA.)  The basis for the case was Georgia’s Constitution, which grants the right to freedom of personality.  (The Constitution of Georgia (Aug. 24, 1995, as last amended Dec. 27, 2006), art. 16, Parliament of Georgia website.)

In July of this year, the Court decided that it was not a crime to cultivate up to 151 grams of marijuana, as long as it was for personal use. (Hiltz, supra.)

Comments on the Decision

Khvichia stated that he hoped full legalization of marijuana consumption will be the next step. “We have at least overcome the Soviet obstacles about marijuana consumption. From now, consumers of cannabis will not be considered as criminals … .  I want to promise people that marijuana consumption will be legal soon,” Khvichia said. (Morrison, supra.)

Akaki Zoidze, the Chair of the parliamentary Health Committee, stated that the legislature is now working on a draft law that would eventually legalize marijuana use and predicted that the use of other drugs in Georgia would also be decriminalized by the law when adopted. (Id.)