Tbilisi City Court ruled on January 23 to sentence actor Giorgi Giorganashvili, who is known as ‘Bakhala,’ to eight years of prison for the possession of 0.3726 grams of Buprenorphine (Subutex). The amount is small enough to be considered as possession for private consumption.
Giorganashvili was arrested in July 2017 but released on 20,000 GEL bail, after there was a public demonstration in Tbilisi against his arrest.
Giorganashvili denies all the charges and says the drugs were planted on him by police when he was arrested. In a public statement he also stated that he was physically and verbally abused by police when he was arrested. The Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into abuse of power from police.
Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia commented on January 23 that “we will be strict on such matters. When there’s a case of abuse of power from police we will be twice as demanding.”
The court’s ruling against Giorganashvili has caused wide public outrage in Georgia. The What ite Noise movement, which advocates for getting rid of Georgia’s draconian drug policies, plans to hold a large demonstration in front of the chancellery building of the government of Georgia on January 25 at 17:00. White Noise Movement activist Naja Orashvili called the demonstration ‘All for One.’
Giorganashvili’s friends and supporters at the court, director Tornike Bziava and White Noise Movement activist Beka Tsikarishvili, were arrested after Tsikarishvili threw a brick at the court window in protest against Giorganashvili’s sentence. The Court sentenced Beka Tsikarishvili to 14-day administrative imprisonment. The White Noise Movement protest is also demanding their release.
A legislative package on liberalization of drug policies has been already initiated in the Parliament of Georgia, however it still needs to be discussed and approved. Several opposition and government leaders have already commented that drug policies in Georgia need to be changed, including Georgian Dream’s parliamentary majority leader, Archil Talakvadze.
“Legislation needs to be changed in this [drug policies] sphere. Together with the government we’re working on the kind of model which would reduce the problem of drugs in our country, protect our children from the harm of drugs, and promote a healthy lifestyle. We will help drug addicts by treatment and rehabilitation programs, and on the other hand we will support the police in battling organized drug related crimes and drug dealers,” Talakvadze stated.
On January 22, the chairperson of parliament’s committee on human rights Sopo Kiladze also stated that change is needed, but with a different perspective:
“I hope that as a result of active work we will have the kind of drug policies which will be acceptable for society, as well as, of course, for our church and Patriarch,” she said.
Religious figures have been previously involved in the discussion about drug policies. Patriarch Ilia II said that “it is of utmost importance to have the kind of drug policies which will defend our youngsters and create a negative attitude towards this disease.”
Georgia has been criticized on numerous occasions for its harsh drug policies. Other violent crimes often receive much softer punishments in court than drug possession. 17 individuals were arrested in 2012 for torture and received, in total, six years imprisonment. Some have even been imprisoned for 6 months and fined 2,000 GEL. In another case, a man who shot and killed his wife with a shotgun received nine years; the person charged with bombing the car of opposition politician Givi Targamadze for a four-year sentence.
On November 30, The Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana, stating that it is unconstitutional to criminally prosecute a person for using marijuana. The decision only applies to marijuana use, whereas activists are demanding decriminalization of all drugs.
Since 2010, there has been an active social campaign in Georgia demanding the liberalization of the country’s drug policies. The first large demonstration in Tbilisi demanding the decriminalization of marijuana was held on June 2, 2013; there have been demonstrations for decriminalization on every subsequent June 2nd.
As a result of numerous campaigns led by the June 2nd Movement, White Noise Movement, GeNPUD and other organizations, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that the possession of less than 70 grams of marijuana would not be punishable by prison. In 2016, the Constitutional Court also ruled that the private use of marijuana is not criminally punishable by prison. However, cultivation of marijuana continues to be punishable with a 12-year prison term.
According to a 2015 study by the research center on addiction Alternative Georgia, in cooperation with the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), 69.4% of those polled were in favour of decriminalization of marijuana. 54.5% of those polled believed that people should not be arrested for the use of all other drugs.
In 2016, 40 civil society movements and organisations working on drug policy created a National Platform for Narcopolitics working towards decriminalizing the consumption of all drugs.