Georgian Patriarch Calls For More Effective, Tolerant Drug Policies

TBILISI -- The leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church has used his Christmas message to urge the government to do more to prevent young people from sliding into drug addiction.

In remarks delivered at a holiday mass in Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral on January 7, Patriarch Ilia II called drug addiction a disease and urged Georgians and the government to be more tolerant towards drug addicts.

He called on the government "to work out new drug policies that would prevent young people from using drugs and create a negative attitude towards that dire disease."

Most citizens of the South Caucasus nation consider themselves Orthodox Christians, and the 85-year-old patriarch commands widespread respect.

In late November, Georgia's Constitutional Court decriminalized use of marijuana and other forms of cannabis-based drugs. However, the court preserved administrative punishment, such as a fine, for marijuana use.

Before that, Georgia's Criminal Code defined repetitive use of marijuana and possession of more than 70 grams of dried cannabis as a crime for which individuals could face punishment that does not include imprisonment.

The opposition Girchi party, which has led a drive to legalize marijuana since November 2016, said then that it would fight for complete decriminalization of marijuana in the former Soviet republic.