Illicit drug use is considered to be one of the major socials problems in the Republic of Georgia. After visiting the country and attending the national harm reduction conference in October, my impression was that the real problem is the crazy drug policy (exported from the US of course) and not drug use itself. The word “crazy” may seem an overstatement for some people, but I think they don’t know the everyday reality of Georgian drug policy at all. In this country with a population no more than 5 million, the police arrests almost 60.000 people every year for drug offenses – but without any clear evidence that they even possessed drugs! If somebody looks suspicious or even distasteful for a policeman on the street he can easily find himself in a jail for 8-9 hours, waiting for a drug test that can confirm his innocence. Yes, I say innocence, because 70% of those people arrested for drug use actually tested negative last year. Why is it good for the police? Because they can escort people for 8-9 hours instead of chasing real criminals on the streets, and of course this procedure is a source of governmental funding and corruption for law enforcement agencies. Thousands of marginalized drug users are imprisoned because they were not able to pay the fines, sometimes even their apartment is confiscated. At the same time, treatment programs are underfunded, the clients are often harassed by police and there is no drug coordination system at all.
HCLU’s video advocacy team produced a movie on this issue. The film shows the tragedy of a family caused by repressive drug legislation and neglectful governmental policy. An old man explains what did it mean to him when his son was imprisoned for drug use. We presented the movie at the national harm reduction conference in the capital, Tbilisi – and now to the international community as well.
To find out more about Georgian drug policy download the briefing paper of the Beckley Foundation, written by Dato Otiashvili (Alternative Georgia) and myself:
Drug Control in Georgia: Testing and the Reduction of Drug Use?
Recently the government anounced that it wants to change the drug legislation – but unfortunately it seems that not for good. We don’t have the text of the bill (the government has not release it yet), but we have some information, for example that according to the proposed legislation the fines will be even higher than now, and those who refuse to undergo drug testing will be automatically considered guilty. They also plan to introduce forced drug testing for every public servants, including teachers, which may result in the exclusion of drug users from several professions (even if they are occasional marijuana smokers).
Please help us to circulate this video and report and show the world what’s happening in Georgia! Maybe it’s not late to put international pressure on the Georgian government.
posted by Peter Sarosi