JAMnews looks at the new marijuana regulations " />

Marijuana use in Georgia – what does the new law say?

JAMnews looks at the new marijuana regulations

A woman smoking a cigarette at a marijuana legalisation rally in Tbilisi, 2 June 2013. REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili

The use of cannabis in Georgia is legal. A person cannot be imprisoned or fined according to the law for smoking cannabis. However, there are a number of issues that one should be aware of.

The new legislation of 30 November limits certain aspects of smoking marijuana – JAMnews breaks down the new regulations.

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Legislative amendments adopted by the parliament of Georgia have placed a number of limits on marijuana smoking.

A bill was put forward by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia which clearly defines where, when and how to use marijuana without breaking the law.

However, the new law does not provide answers to many questions. For example, it is unclear how one can go about smoking marijuana if it is illegal to buy or sell it.

Is smoking marijuana legal in Georgia?

Yes, it is legal. The new law echoes the decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia from 2017, according to which smoking marijuana was recognized as a non-judicial affair.

How will the police react if they see someone smoking marijuana?

If the individual is 21 or older, in their own home or in a private residence and there are no minors nearby, the police will not react. In all other cases, the law provides for a number of regulations.

Where can you smoke marijuana?

In a private residence, or a private area where smoking marijuana is allowed.

Where is it illegal to smoke marijuana?

The use of marijuana is prohibited in public, in cafes, restaurants, parks, squares, stadiums, public transport, cinemas, theatres, schools and educational institutions, as well as surrounding areas.

Smoking in public places is punishable by a fine of 800-120 lari [about $300-450]. The use of cannabis is prohibited in the workplace.

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Who cannot smoke marijuana?

Use of marijuana is prohibited for persons under the age of 21. Individuals younger than 21 found smoking marijuana will be fined between 500 and 1,500 lari [about $190 – 560].

Inciting minors to using drugs is a criminal offense and is punishable by imprisonment of six to ten years.

It is also forbidden to be under the influence of marijuana in the presence of minors. Violations are punishable by a fine of 1,000 to 1,500 GEL [about $375-560].

Cannabis use is prohibited while on duty or at work.

This applies to both the public and private labor sectors. It does not matter the profession – a musician composing a rock ballad, or a surgeon preparing for a heart operation. An administrative fine of up to 1,500 lari [about $560] will be given.

However, if you are a doctor, the laws are stricter. A list of professions that handle serious situations has been compiled, and practitioners of such professions will not only be fined for using marijuana in the workplace, but may even lose the right to practice their profession.

Driving under the influence of marijuana is prohibited. Driving under the influence of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by a fine or one year’s imprisonment.

In the event that a driver under the influence of marijuana violates the rules, and, as a result of this, injures someone, the punishment can be more severe based on aggravating circumstances.

Promotion of Marijuana

More severe penalties will apply to the promoting or advertising of narcotics, including marijuana. Whereas before now natural persons were fined 500 lari (around $185) and juridical persons 5,000 lari (around $1,800), the average citizen might have to pay beteen 5,000 and 10,000 lari (around $1,800-3,700) and a juridical person between 10,000-20,000 lari (around $7,400).

Acquisition and storage

No changes have been made. The acquisition, storage and transport of marijuana, as in the past, remains a crime. From five to seventy grams is considered a minor amount, whereas more than seventy grams is considered excessive.

There’s no threat of jail time for the acquisition of up to seventy grams of dried, or up to 100 grams of fresh marijuana. That said, the buyer is considered to have violated the criminal code. According to the law, the acquisition or storage of any amount of marijuana violates the law, though it’s unclear what sort of punishment might follow considering they won’t imprison one for this, but an alternative punishment is not prescribed.

In the case of a large amount of marijuana (more than seventy grams), even if a first-time offense, the law stipulates imprisonment.

Criminal liability is fully revoked for small amounts of acquired, stored, or transported marijuana (up to five grams of dry and up to ten grams of raw marijuana) and there is only an administrative fine of 500 lari (around $185).

Is it illegal to possess marijuana for the purposes of smoking?

This isn’t a criminal act, and one isn’t threatened with imprisonment for this, but the 500 lari fine will have to be paid. However, if you manage to light up you won’t be punished in accordance with this article either. But before lighting up, look around: make sure you’re not near a public building and that there are no minors nearby.

Can one grow marijuana at home, in pots or in a personal garden?

The cultivation of up to 151 grams of Cannabis is not punishable by imprisonment, but alternative penalties are not indicated in the law.

In other words, the court will find you guilty, but it’s unclear what sort of punishment will be meted out.

Furthermore, during the process of cultivation, it’ll be necessary to constantly weigh the leaves in order to not exceed the permissible limit. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that harvested, unprocessed leaves should not exceed 100 grams and dried leaves should not exceed seventy grams.

How can one smoke marijuana if it cannot be sold, gifted, or grown yourself?

This is the murkiest part of the law: it allows for the use of marijuana, but forbids one from obtaining it. The result is nonsensical: a person who wants to exercise their constitutional right to smoke marijuana breaks the law in trying to do so.

 

Why was a new law needed?

Marijuana use became legal on 30 July 2018 by decision of the Constitutional Court. On the basis of a lawsuit initiated by the political movement Girchi (Pinecone) the Constitutional Court abolished the article in accordance with which marijuana use, and use without a medical prescription, was punishable by administrative procedure.

The Constitutional Court found that marijuana use falls under an individual’s right to freely choose their pastimes. This decision legalized marijuana use.

However, at that point all legislation had to be brought into accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court. The new law, initiated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, might be considered an attempt at exactly that.

Critique: arguments from the opponents of the legislative project

Some non-governmental organizations and civil activists believe that the new law substantially reduces the possibilities opened up by the Constitutional Court, and that it contradicts the court’s decision.

The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) NGO, which has been monitoring the process from the start, believes that several provisions of the new law are unclear, murky, and anti-constitutional. According to GYLA, the biggest problem is that the current legislation does not define the regulations for the acquisition, storage, and transport of a small amount of marijuana, though marijuana use is permissible by law.

GYLA also criticizes the part of the law that prescribes administrative punishment for marijuana use by minors. The lawyers from the organization consider it unjustified to penalize minors for actions that are not illegal for adults.

It is also unclear why the lower age limit has been raised from 18 to 21 years, when in Georgia a minor is considered someone under the age of 18, and not 21.

GYLA also asserts that the penalty for operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and/or alcohol should be identical, and not more severe for the former, as provided for in the law.

There has for a number of years been a discussion about the need to liberalize the policies on narcotics. In recent years, there have been large-scale demonstrations every couple of months in Tbilisi for the legalization of marijuana and the liberalization of narcotics policies.

Activists believe there are several reasons that those in power are dragging their feet on liberalization, chief among them is that those in power can effectively use the narcotics policy for their own ends, including to retain their own positions.

They can also use it in political struggles with their opponents. According to a 2015 report by the Council of Europe, in Georgia, on average, one in three imprisoned convicts is serving a term for violating laws associated with narcotics.

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