Georgia Could Become the First Country to Export Legal Marijuana
The former Soviet state of Georgia has galloped from scrapping criminal penalties for marijuana use to introducing legislation to allow marijuana exports -- in just a year.
Those who support the exports proposal say overseas cannabis sales would pump hundreds of millions of dollars a year into an economy that -- while growing -- is still valued at only about $4,000 per household per year. If the legislation passes, Georgia, with a population of roughly 4 million, could become a legal-cannabis-exports model for countries looking to grow their economies.
Exports would require cultivation, growth, harvesting, testing, packaging and delivery of cannabis, of course. This would create thousands of jobs in a chain that ultimately leads to overseas sales. The jobs could lure back some of the 1 million or so Georgians who are working overseas for lack of opportunities at home.
Dozens of countries and American states have either legalized recreational or medical use of marijuana or reduced penalties for its use from jail time to fines. Canada, with a population of 37 million, became the largest country ever to legalize it last week.
The global cannabis-legalization wave will only grow, and Georgia can get out in front of it by doing something no country has ever done: legalizing exports.
A lot of countries are also enacting legislation aimed at ensuring that legal marijuana is safe. One approach is granting legal-cannabis business licenses only to companies experienced in growing, testing, packaging and delivering it. I hope the Georgia legislation does not include such a restriction -- because it would limit competition by preventing businesses with good records in other industries from taking part.
Like all legislation, Georgia's exports proposal faces opposition -- in this case, from conservative politicians and the influential Georgian Orthodox Church.
But, the fact that the country's Constitutional Court -- no bastion of liberalism -- has made two pro-cannabis rulings in a year suggests that most Georgians favor exports. This grassroots support could help proponents pilot the legislation through Parliament.
Until a year ago, Georgia was anything but a legal-marijuana haven. Like most countries, it had laws prohibiting marijuana use, cultivation and sales. That was when the Constitutional Court ruled that jail time was too harsh a penalty for recreational marijuana consumption.
Supporters of marijuana legalization jumped on the decision to file a lawsuit demanding that all forms of punishment for recreational marijuana use -- including fines -- be abolished. In late July, the Constitutional Court agreed. The decision effectively decriminalized recreational use of cannabis in the country. This was in fact the first precedent in the world when legalization was established by constitutional court.
The court found persuasive the argument of the plaintiffs -- the legalization activists Zurab Japaridze and Vakhtang Megrelishvili -- that marijuana use does not constitute a threat to society. "It can only harm the users' health, making that user him/herself responsible for the outcome," the court asserted. "The responsibility for such actions does not cause dangerous consequences for the public."
Most court decisions carry caveats, and the Constitutional Court noted that marijuana consumers could be subject to punishment if they smoked in schools or universities, on buses, trains or in other public places, or "in the presence of children."
Emboldened even further by this second Constitutional Court decision, legal cannabis supporters began trying to convince lawmakers to scrap statutes making cultivating and selling marijuana illegal. Some of the parliamentarians who were enthusiastic about the idea decided to go a step further by drafting the legal-cannabis exports legislation. My party, Girchi, held the country's first-ever marijuana festival, which took place on Oct. 20.
At the moment, no one knows whether the proposal will be enacted. Any legislation is dicey, taking unexpected twists and turns. And opposition from conservative politicians and the church is expected to be stiff. But, those of us who support legal marijuana exports think momentum is on our side.
If we win, Georgia will not only have one of the world's most liberal cannabis policies, but also be way ahead of everyone else in using marijuana to bring in hard currency from abroad -- legally.