The messenger logo

Human Rights Watch Urges Georgia to Decriminalize Personal Use and Possession of Drugs

By Tea Mariamidze
Tuesday, August 14
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a nonprofit, non-governmental, human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe, calls on the Georgian government to remove all criminal sanctions for personal use and possession of drugs.

The 67-page report, “Harsh Punishment: The Human Toll of Georgia’s Abusive Drug Laws,” describes the impact of overly punitive drug laws and practices on people who use drugs, and on their families.

It reads that Georgia’s drug laws and their aggressive enforcement is causing severe and unjustifiable harm, adding drug prosecutions for consumption and possession often lead to long prison sentences and prohibitive fines against people who have not harmed others, but who acquired small amounts of drugs for personal use.

HRW says that although Georgia has partially liberalized drug laws, but they remain harsh. The report is based on more than 85 in-depth interviews with people who have been prosecuted for drug-related crimes, their lawyers and family members, as well as social workers, community organization leaders, government officials, and various advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations.

The report documents the impact of overly punitive drug laws and practices, including disproportionately harsh prison sentences and fines, abusive, mandatory drug tests, coerced plea bargains, and arbitrary limitations on rights, such as obtaining a driver’s license or working in various professions.

“The criminal justice system continues to treat most drug consumption or possession for personal use as a criminal felony, with severe consequences,” the report reads.

According to the document, in June 2017, several members of parliament introduced a comprehensive draft law that would decriminalize personal drug use. The draft was developed by Georgia’s National Drug Policy Platform, a broad coalition of non-governmental groups, experts, and activists. The draft law is grounded in a health-oriented approach that explicitly states that people with problematic drug use need support, not incarceration and stigmatization.

“The draft stalled in parliament after just one committee hearing, and the government appears to have halted any plans for further substantial drug policy reform,” the report reads.

The HRW says it is time for Georgia to rethink the criminalization paradigm.

“Ending criminalization of simple drug possession does not mean turning a blind eye to the harm that drug dependence can cause in the lives of those who use, and of their families. On the contrary, it requires a more direct focus on effective measures to prevent problematic drug use, reduce the harms associated with it, and support those who struggle with dependence,” the report reads.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Georgian authorities to end the criminalization of personal use of drugs and possession of drugs for personal use. This means removing all criminal sanctions for use and possession.

“Instead, greater focus should be placed on effective public health measures to prevent and address drug dependency and reduce the harms associated with it,” the report reads.

On July 30, 2018 Georgia’s Constitutional Court made a decision to abolish administrative punishment for marijuana consumption. The decision only refers to personal usage and not to keeping or distributing cannabis.