Georgia Legalizes Marijuana Use, Looks to Medical Cannabis Cultivation and Export: Country Profile
The government is drafting legislation to govern the cultivation and export of medical marijuana amid opposition from the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate church.
Georgia became the first former Soviet country to legalize cannabis consumption in July, but has since struggled to draft legislation to legalize medical marijuana production and export, which Finance Minister Ivane Machavariani estimated would generate GEL 1 billion in profit.
In a July 30 ruling, Georgia’s Constitutional Court declared that penalizing an individual for using cannabis restricts that individual’s freedom, as marijuana use can only potentially harm the user, according to a Radio Free Europe report. The nation then abolished administrative punishments for marijuana consumption, although the cultivation and sale of cannabis remain crimes, according to the court’s ruling, which was initiated by a lawsuit filed by activists of the opposition Girchi party.
The Girichi Party has advocated for legalization since November 2016. Georgia’s Constitutional Court decriminalized the use of marijuana and cannabis-based drugs in November 2017, but administrative punishments, such as fines, remained in effect, Radio Free Europe reported. (Prior to that ruling, Georgia’s Criminal Code defined use of marijuana and possession of more than 70 ounces of dried cannabis as a punishable crime, although offenders could not face jail time.)
Earlier this month, the government announced plans to legalize marijuana cultivation strictly for pharmaceutical and cosmetic product exports, according to a Georgia Today report. Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia announced that a special agency would be set up to license cultivators.
The government unveiled draft legislation Sept. 11 on industrial cannabis cultivation, and ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party officials immediately denounced the move toward legalization, according to a Newsweek report. “I do not agree with the decision of the Constitutional Court,” Akaki Zoidze, chair of the healthcare committee in Georgia’s parliament, told local media. “Marijuana consumption should be allowed only for medical purposes. … Our aim was not to make marijuana accessible for everyone but to reduce the number of drug addicts.”
The Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate church has also come out in protest of legalization, causing the government to take a step back from the draft bill that would legalize cannabis cultivation and export. Senior Orthodox clerics voiced initial objections Sept. 12 at a conference, saying that the legalization of cannabis cultivation “carries many risks,” both in implementation and foreign security, according to a Civil.ge report.
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze has said that the public was “misled” by ruling party opponents to believe that the legislation legalizes the production and sale of drugs and stressed that the bill is an “urgent matter,” Civil.ge reported.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry introduced a new bill to Parliament Sept. 17 that would fully legalize cannabis consumption at home for those 21 and older while still imposing fines for purchase and possession; the bill does not present a path to regulated retail sales. The new legislation also introduces criminal penalties for using cannabis in the presence of children and while driving.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a local rights group, has argued that parts of the proposed regulations are unconstitutional and conflict with the Constitutional Court’s initial ruling that punishments for cannabis consumption are unconstitutional, according to an OC Media report.
“The [new] bill excludes every possibility of acquiring cannabis and deems it entirely illegal,” GYLA’s statement said. “Because of this, in order to exercise one’s constitutional right, a person has to go through an illegal procedure, which indirectly means punishment for consuming cannabis.”
Parliament’s legal committee approved the bill Sept 19 after some debate with Orthodox priests, where the clergy urged the government to reverse the decision of the Constitutional Court.
However, according to Georgia’s Finance Minister, the nation has a lot to gain from the medical marijuana export market. Machavariani said during an interview with Imedi TV that Georgia could “be a significant player” in the medical marijuana market and could see GEL 1 billion in profit if Georgia’s government implements marijuana cultivation reform for export purposes, Georgia Today reported.
“From year to year, the production of cannabis is growing rapidly and according to various forecasts, in 2024-2025, it will reach around $25 billion,” he said during the interview, adding, “We want to increase our export potential and gain significant profit, which is of utmost importance for our economy.”