News & Analysis

Georgia legalises the consumption – but not sale – of marijuana

Georgia has become the first country in the former Soviet Union to legalise the consumption of marijuana after the country’s constitutional court released a statement on July 30 stating that the administrative fines usually handed out for the smoking of weed had effectively been abolished.

“The consumption of marijuana is not an act of social threat, and can harm only the user’s health. Such actions do not create any dangerous consequences for the public,” read a statement issued by the court.

Zurab Japaridze, a libertarian MP and one of the founders of a movement, Girchi, which has worked tirelessy to have the fines for marijuana consumption abolished, congratulated the court on its ruling.

“With this decision, Georgia has become a freer country,” said Mr Japaridze. “By abolishing the administrative fines, the consumption of marijuana has become legal in Georgia.” However, he added that he had been working not to legalise marijuana per se, but had instead been “fighting for freedom.”

The constitutional court noted in its ruling that marijuana consumption forms part of an individual’s protected right to free development and that prohibition was disproportionate, not least as the role of individuals in its distribution is minimal.

The Girchi movement first began campaigning for the decriminalisation of marijuana in 2016, a goal it partly achieved a year later when the same constitutional court ruled that the consumption of marijuana would become an administrative issue and not a criminal offence. This effectively replaced the threat of prison sentences with fines. Until then, the repetitive use of marijuana and possession of more than 70 grams of dried weed could, and sometimes did, lead to custodial sentences.

While smoking weed in Georgia is now wholly legal, its distribution remains prohibited, and its sale remains a criminal offence.

Zurab Japaridze’s next project might possibly be the decriminalisation of distribution too. “If consumption of marijuana is legal, then there has to be a legal way of obtaining it,” he said.