Georgian Patriarch’s Christmas epistle, which briefly outlined his vision on drug policy reform and stressed the need for “protecting” young people “from this gravest disease,” drew positive response from Georgian politicians.
“It is essential to develop a policy that will protect the youth and create negative perception over this gravest disease. Moreover, rehabilitation centers have to be built, young people’s awareness needs to be raised from [early] school age, along with implementing other measures,” Ilia II wrote in his epistle, which was read out at the Holy Trinity Cathedral just before midnight on January 6, before the Orthodox Christmas mass.
“When the country is on the verge of a demographic disaster, we have to be very careful and cautious, so that the problem [of drug use] is addressed with right and complex approach and we take realistic, tangible steps,” the Patriarch added.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who attended the Christmas liturgy together with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze, said in his remarks after the ceremony that the Christmas epistle conveyed Patriarch’s message “on how to soften the drug policy.”
“I have repeatedly emphasized that since punishment and coercion have not been returning better results for decades, and to the contrary, it has been destroying the lives of many, I believe we should start thinking to address the problem differently and come up with ways to ease the drug policy and make it more humane,” the President noted.
The Patriarch’s words received positive feedback from ruling party lawmakers as well, with Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze saying epistle messages would be “taken into consideration in the working process,” and with MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, who leads the Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, noting that the Patriarch’s calls would help them “balance the interest of human rights protection and drug policy tightening.”
Deputy Interior Minister Nino Javakhadze commented on the issue as well. Speaking at her news briefing yesterday, Javakhadze said that the Ministry would continue consultations with government, experts and other stakeholders to make the country’s drug policy “more efficient.”
“Efficient drug policy should be based on a balance between being humane and preventing encouragement of drug use,” she noted, adding that the Interior Minister would make a statement of his own in coming days.
Under the current legislation, first-time use of drugs is punished by an administrative fine, while repeated use of drugs results in criminal liability – corrective labor or imprisonment for a term of up to one year.
The Parliament of Georgia is currently processing the CSO-drafted legislative amendments, which, if approved, will release use of drugs for personal purposes as well as possession of small amount of drugs from criminal liability. Moreover, public agencies will be obliged to carry out measures aimed at reducing health, social and economic harms caused by drug use.
The bill was registered in the Parliament in June 2017 as a legislative proposal of five ruling party lawmakers, but due to lack of consensus within the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, its discussion has been delayed.
The Parliament’s committee on health issues approved the bill on December 27 with its first reading, but seven ruling party lawmakers boycotted the committee sitting, claiming decriminalization would have adverse effects and promote drug use.