Reefer Madness in Georgia

beqaBeqa Tsikarishvili faces 7-14 years for possession of 65 grams of pot. Murderers in Georgia get 7-15 and rapists a maximum of 6.

In the winter of 2002 I traveled to Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city, to play a concert at the philharmonic with a few other bands. We had time to kill and Robi, Georgia’s first punk, took us to meet some architect friends of his at their office in a crooked wooden building high above the Rioni River. It was one righteous sneeze away from collapsing into the rest of the garbage scattered along the banks.

A calendar on the wall of a white Alsatian against a backdrop of the Alps indicated that the last time anybody seriously used a T-Square was in 1989. Still, the guys came out of habit, or to get out of the house, or to work on the occasional fortuitous job. Our arrival was a lively jolt from their mundane routine.

The men cleared some dusty papers off a drafting table and laid some bread, cheese, Russian kolbasa and vodka, which was unsurprising as this is how guests are typically welcomed on such short notice. But then a young man walked in and dumped a pile of marijuana next to a plate of cheese. A couple guys began preparing joints USSR style, by emptying out the cheap tobacco from Russian papiros –  fat cigarettes with hollow cardboard “filters”- and filling them with the typical tobacco-pot mixture. Our luncheon soon became one big Caucasus pot party as virtually every man – old and young alike – were chain-smoking these funky joints.

Later that night at the concert, a musician was standing between the entrance and the stage, puffing a reefer when a cop walked up to him and asked if he could kindly smoke the joint behind the stage.

Sadly, the devil-may-care attitude towards pot was snuffed out in 2006, when  the government declared war on drugs and made possession of a joint a criminal offense.

I wrote my first story about Georgia’s drug policy in 2006. At the time Subutex, a buprenorphine methadone substitute smuggled from Europe was all the rage. This month, prompted by an email from a drug policy advocate, I took another look at the policy to see what has changed. The new Georgian Dream coalition government has not reformed the drug policy as promised and continues the same repressive methods of the previous government, which it had castigated. However, a growing civil movement to decriminalize marijuana is gaining traction and there is hope that at the very least, penalties for possession of pot will be liberalized. piss06Protesting the June 8th mass arrest of 14 people from a house party, who were forced to undergo urine testing for drug use, about 200 people left cups of urine in front of the chancellory, where the Prime Minister’s office is.

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