Issue 5, 2018. October-November


Georgia Weighs Legal Cannabis Production for Export

The Georgian government has pledged to hold public discussions on a draft law that would legalize cannabis production for export. While there is strong opposition to the proposal in some quarters, the ruling Georgian Dream Party believes implementing forward-thinking legislation today will help deal with the drug addiction problem in the country and strengthen the economy.

The Georgian government has prepared a draft law on the cultivation of cannabis for export, specifically for the production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The initiative was one part of a legislative package aimed at updating the country's drug laws following the Constitutional Court decision decriminalizing marijuana consumption.

But following a large protest from the Georgian Orthodox Church and other groups in society, the proposal has been temporarily shelved pending public discussions.

Licensed Cultivation

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze announced the government's plans during his regular press briefing on September 12.

The proposal, which foresees a strict licensing process for cannabis cultivation in Georgia and which would have strictly prohibited its sale in the country, was part of a larger draft law on regulating marijuana use in the country.

"After the Constitutional Court's decision on marijuana consumption, a new legal reality emerged-marijuana use in private spaces is no longer a crime or even an administrative offense. Immediately after the publication of this court decision, I instructed the Interior Ministry to prepare a relevant bill strictly and clearly banning marijuana consumption in public places," he noted.

Bakhtadze underscored that selling marijuana is still a felony in the country.

"We need to be sure that not even one gram of this stuff is illegally sold, and that it does not create health problems for our population and citizens," he said.

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia said the Ministry's recommendations include an age limit on marijuana consumption and other regulations. He noted that if the sector is well regulated, allowing cannabis-based medical products does not "create additional risks."

Prevention and the Economy

Deputy Parliament Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili told that the parliament has been researching international best practices on drug policies for the past two years. Their work has included intensive study of several models, from Dutch practices to the approaches in Spain and Portugal.

The current draft was a product of the parliament's research and a response to the Constitutional Court rulings against the strict prison time envisioned under Georgia's existing legislation.

Prior to the Constitutional Court's decisions, Georgia had some of the strictest anti-drug laws in the region. Today, however, the mood of the Court is to roll back those restrictions, Chugoshvili said.

She noted that the strict prison sentences for drug use did not solve the country's drug problem.

"This very repressive criminal policy did not really work for Georgia because it did not really reduce the damage; it did not really reduce the number of people who suffer from this problem," she said.

"So, we were looking into the experiences of different countries. We were looking from that perspective, from the human rights perspective-what countries did to overcome the problem; and many countries actually overcame this problem not by repressive criminal policies but by a rather different approach: providing healthcare programs, preventive programs, social rehabilitation programs," Chugoshvili said, noting that the most successful programs were also the most expensive: the individual, case-by-case approach combined with strong prevention programs in schools and universities.

"Everyone agrees that the state needs to have a more caring policy and that this will require a lot of investment and a lot of money," she said.

But today, following the latest court decision, "we are left in a situation where quite a lot of cannabis can be possessed, and it can be freely consumed, and our feelings are that this is the worst condition that the country can have," Chugoshvili said.

"This is why we are rushing with a decision, because this part needs to be regulated somehow: you cannot really give marijuana to 12-year-olds and this kind of thing-you cannot drive while [being under the influence]. These kinds of things need to be regulated as soon as possible," she said.

The government's draft law package involves two separate parts: regulation of marijuana use and a legal framework for licensing cannabis cultivation for export.

"I do not know how this process will continue in the future, but if Georgia decides to proceed with this draft, to proceed with this law for cultivation for pharmaceutical purposes, Georgia has the capacity to control the licensing process and control the cultivation and production in a way that it does not increase the number of people who are using marijuana," she said.

Chugoshvili said that, following pushback from society, the part dealing with the licensing of cannabis cultivation will be shelved for now, however, pending discussions and wider public information campaigns.

There is no scheduled date for the cannabis cultivation portion of the law to be discussed in parliament.

International Trend

Georgia's draft law follows a growing international trend to legalize cannabis cultivation and sales.

Twelve countries in the world have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes; two countries-Uruguay and Canada-plus several U.S. states-have legalized it for recreational purposes.

Economics plays a part in the equation for lawmakers considering legalizing cannabis consumption: a study in Colorado found the legal marijuana market created 18,000 jobs and generated $2.4 billion over a two-year period.

The Georgian government's draft plan is much more conservative and only foresees the legalization of cannabis cultivation for export products; the sale of marijuana in the country would be illegal, Chugoshvili said.

"According to this draft, any dealing with the selling of drugs including marijuana, cannabis, inside the country, is a criminal offense [. . .] The cultivation for the pharmaceutical purposes is allowed, and there is a very detailed regulation for licensing. If it happens, it should happen under very strict oversight by the state because, as I said, any selling of cannabis inside the country is considered to be a criminal offense," she said.

The current version of the draft envisions six different types of licenses and an independent agency under the executive branch of the country, which would control the licensing process.

The licenses, Chugoshvili said, would be for the cultivation of cannabis for the production of oil used for pharmaceutical purposes. "We did some research of course, we did a lot of research actually, and there are very developed countries that have similar regulations, including Canada, the United States, Germany, Austria, Israel, and the Netherlands. There is a big list of countries that do this and the draft was basically following their example," she said.