Cannabis Legalization in The Former Soviet Union

One of the most fantastic by-products of cannabis reform in the world’s G7 countries is the confidence it gives smaller nations to follow suit.

Canada is scheduled to legalize adult-use marijuana in the coming months, and the U.S. continues to stamp out prohibition one state at a time. This “leading by example” has spurred politicians around the world in places like Ireland, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Australia, and various others to reconsider the mistake of banning cannabis in the first place.

Georgia Map

One such country that has recently felt the impact of this global hotbox is Georgia — not the U.S. State with delicious peaches — the former member of the now-defunct Soviet Union.

A new political party in Georgia called “Girchi” is lead by politician-turned-cannabis-activist Zurab Japaridze. He and his colleagues are fed up with standing on the sidelines while the rest of the world moves forward with marijuana legislation. On December 31st, in an act of defiance, the political group planted 84 marijuana seeds at their party’s head office.

Zurab japaridze

Zurab Japaridze. Photo: cbw.ge

“We still have soviet-type drug laws. For cultivating marijuana one can go to prison for up to 12 years,” Japaridze said. “We planted marijuana on December 31 in our party office, and it was broadcast live on several tv channels and on Facebook.”

When Marijuana.com interviewed Japaridze earlier this week, they were waiting for a response to their courageous civil disobedience from local police, and unfortunately, they just received their answer.

“Yesterday our office was raided. Six policemen entered at around 11:00 a.m. and for several hours they searched the whole office. The 84 pots were confiscated and taken for some kind of analysis.”

Georgian News Site DF Watch

Georgian News Site DFWatch

Japaridze went on to add that the raid was covered by all the media outlets in Georgia.  The police did not make any statement nor did they make any arrests, but they did remove all the plants. “We don’t know what their plan is or what their next steps will be.”

Getting the Georgian authorities to come to terms with the reality on the ground regarding global cannabis reform will be a steady challenge for Japaridze and his party, but their message is not falling on entirely deaf ears.

Beka Tsikarishvili Photo: Paul Rimple / eurasianet.org

Beka Tsikarishvili. Photo: Paul Rimple / eurasianet.org

Last year a constitutional court in Georgia decriminalized up to 70 grams of weed after a local citizen named Beka Tsikarishvili was arrested with 67 grams. There was a large campaign started by Tsikarishvili’s friends called “Beka is not a criminal.” The group challenged the arrest in court. Because of the public pressure surrounding the case, the court determined that amending the prison sentence would be the best course of action. Regardless of that win, Japaridze said there is a hefty fine of several thousand Lari (Georgian currency) if the police catch someone with ganja.

One of the indicators that global marijuana reform is an influence in Georgia, is the fact that they recently made a deal with the European Union in regards to visa liberalization. The agreement means that citizens of the EU will no longer need to apply for a visa if they want to travel to the former soviet country. One of the requirements for this deal was a liberalization of Georgia’s drug policy.

For this requirement, the government was forced to make at least one amendment toward a more liberal outlook regarding drugs. Georgia eliminated the police’s ability to use involuntary urine tests on citizens, which was a common practice before the EU deal.

Japaridze and his colleagues knew that the EU visa deal would put them in a good position to move their message forward. “We understand that the government is in a really difficult position with what we have done. If they arrest almost the entire party, it will damage their reputation and the reputation of a country trying to develop democracy, join the European Union and NATO. If they do not arrest us, than it will be difficult to arrest regular citizens when they grow cannabis for their personal use. We don’t know yet at what decision they will end up.”

No matter what happens, Japaridze and his party are ready. They have vowed to continue their efforts until the government recognizes that using marijuana should not be a crime.

Photo courtesy of Guram Muradov/Civil.ge

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