TBILISI, DFWatch–The leader of an opposition party in the former Soviet republic Georgia made a small marijuana plantation inside the party office on New Year’s Eve as part of a campaign to decriminalize soft drugs.
Zurab Japaridze, leader of a newly formed party called Girchi, made true on a pledge a month and a half ago to plant cannabis and risk criminal charges if the government did not change its harsh drug policy by the end of the year.
Parliament already discussed the proposal but rejected it at the first hearing in March.
“I don’t know the consequences,” Japaridze said at an improvised press conference standing next to his fellow party members in Girchi’s office.
”No amendments to the law have been passed and as we know [the authorities] don’t plan to make any serious changes [in the law], thus now we’ll fulfill our pledge and along with party members and dozens of other people who have gathered in the office [we] will publicly violate clause 265 of the Criminal Code, which implies up to 12 years of incarceration… and will start cultivation of marijuana in our office right now.”
“We are not fighting for marijuana use, we are fighting for basic freedoms,” Japaridze added.
He proceeded to pick up a cardboard cup filled with soil and planted a cannabis seed in it, then poured water over, saying that he’d just violated the law and was waiting for the response from law enforcers. Then he wrote his name on the cup and invited others to write their names on some of the other marijuana cups as well.
There are over fifty cups with marijuana seeds and soil in the party office. Several Girchi members participated in the weed planting event.
Last week, Georgia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law which sent many young people to prison for using marijuana. The ruling decided that it those parts of the law are unconstitutional which refer to the use of a small amount of marijuana, as well as its purchase, storage and production.
Under the Criminal Code of Georgia, it is illegal to purchase or keep a small amount of marijuana or its analogy or precursor for personal use or use without a doctor’s prescription. Violating the ban is punishable by a fine, or 120 to 180 hours of community labor, or imprisonment for one year.
Last year, the Constitutional Court struck down a law that imposed up to 12 year prison sentences for persons caught with small amounts of marijuana.
However, the consumption of marijuana, which grows in the wild many places in Georgia, was not considered a criminal offense until 2006, when president Mikheil Saakashvili launched an anti-drug campaign. Between 2008 and 2013, thousands of Georgians were detained and forced to undergo drug tests.
A study carried out by Alternative Georgia, a drugs treatment center, in cooperation with the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) revealed that about 70 percent of Georgians are in favour of decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana, while 54.5 percent of interviewees believe people shouldn’t be arrested for using drugs.
But despite efforts by campaigners, police are still stopping especially young people in the street asking them to take a drug test. “Suspicious individuals” are detained and taken to a testing facility. If the test is positive for marijuana, the person has to pay a fine the size of which starts at 500 laris (USD 183). If they test positive for harder drugs, they may be imprisoned.
Police did not show up for Girchi’s public weed planting on December 31, but the next day it announced that a criminal inquiry was underway.
Girchi is a libertarian party which split from the United National Movement soon after it suffered a resounding defeat in the 2012 election. UNM members have accused Girchi of being sponsored by billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.