Weed is apparently legal in Georgia. The exact nature of the law is a bit vague and no one seems to be able to find any weed in Tbilisi but it is a pretty radical change compared to before. Draconian laws in the past had sent people away to jail for an absurd period which destroyed many young lives while doing very little to stop the flow of drugs. With the Supreme Court of Georgia’s ruling on pot laws, there is a glimmer of hope that many of these laws will still be removed in favour of a drug policy built on helping society rather than casting certain members of it aside.
Although there appears to finally be some hope for the future, Georgia continues to have incredibly harsh drug laws on most other drugs and getting caught with them could turn into a life-destroying event. With tourism growing in Tbilisi and one of the main attractions of the country being its club culture, more and more tourists are partaking in Tbilisi’s drug culture. Although I would never want to discourage anyone from enjoying themselves as much as possible, it is responsible to make sure people are at least informed about what they are getting themselves into. Likewise, even if you’re not too keen on drugs, that isn’t going to stop your friend from asking for directions from a police officer while gurning like fuck. We’ve all got that mate.
As such, I reached out to Guro Imnadze who is a close old friend of mine. Guro is one of the leading legal voices in researching drug laws in Georgia and is looking to challenge the most oppressive ones. He has worked as a researcher and consultant for Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center. Soon, he will be off on full scholarship to do another Masters of Law at Sussex University in England. I spoke to him about what happens to you if you’re arrested or what you can do for a friend if they get busted. I hope you never have to Google “What do I do if my moronic friend gets busted with K in Tbilisi?” but if our article pops up then hopefully Guro’s advice helps you out a bit.
What happens when I am arrested?
It depends on charges you are arrested for. If you consumed any illicit drug (except Marijuana) (1), or possessed small amount (2) of it, and it is the first-time case during a year, you will be charged with an administrative fine – GEL 500. If you repeat this action during a year, then you will be charged for a criminal offense with possible punishment of up to one-year imprisonment, or at least GEL 1,000 fine.
Do I have to take a drug test?
If the police order’s you to take a drug test, the best way is not to disobey him/her and follow to the drug test facility. After arrival at the drug test facility, you can refuse to participate in the drug testing procedure and then police have a responsibility to release you. In practice, there are cases when police hold a person at the drug testing facility up to 12 hours to force him/her participation into the procedure.
What questions do I need to answer? What answers do I need not to answer?
If you are arrested, you have the right to refuse to answer any questions and it will not be considered as an aggravating circumstance in your case. Still, if you are sure that it will not be used against your interests, you can provide information related to your identification (your name, where are you from, your occupation). Oppositely, you can ask questions about the grounds are you arrested on, what charges do you have, who is the police authority and so on.
Who should I contact? How many people can I contact?
If you are arrested, you can make a phone call to your family. If you think, that police violated your rights, or abused power, you can also inform about it police general inspection or prosecutor’s office.
How long can they detain me?
If you have administrative charges, the maximum period police can detain you is 12 hours. If you are arrested for criminal charges, then the period of arrest should not exceed 72 hours. In that case, not later than 48 hours after arrest, you should be given an indictment.
If I need legal support but I don’t have money then what can I do?
If you don’t have enough finances for your legal support and you can formally prove that, then you have right to receive legal aid at the expense of the state.
If I cannot speak Georgian and I’m a foreigner then what should I do? Do I have a right to a translator? Does the embassy have a right to visit me?
If you cannot speak Georgian, prosecutor/investigator are obliged to provide you translator as soon as possible. Embassies do not have a right to visit you.
For Your Friends
Where can I find out if someone I care about is detained?
In Georgia, if you are not a close relative of a detained person, official bodies are not entitled to provide you information about him/her, as it is personal data. The best possible way of getting the information whether the person is detained or not is to ask about it to the relevant embassy.
Can I help put them in touch with legal representation?
Sure, detained persons have lack of knowledge on their rights and how to access to the legal support.
Am I allowed to provide material goods like money, clean clothing, toiletries, etc.?
You are allowed to provide arrested/imprisoned person all these materials. In terms of money, you cannot provide them cash. The only way is to transfer it on the special card, given to the prisoner by the administration.
How can I speak to them?
The detained/imprisoned person is given a fixed amount of possibility to make a phone call from the prison. You cannot call him/her from the outside. They are also granted the right to have a fixed amount of visits.
How much can I expect to pay for bail?
It is fully depended on the charges. (circumstances of the crime, for example, what kind of substance was possessed by the person, what was the amount, is it a first-time offense, was the person alone, and etc).
(1) Consumption of Marijuana is not punished with administrative, nor criminal charges. While the possession of small amount of Marijuana is still considered as an administrative offence.
(2) Note, that Majority of illicit drugs do not have fixed minimum amounts, so, even the smallest particle of that kind of drugs might be considered as a large amount, which is punished with imprisonment of 5 to 8 years.