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Fine Replaces 14-Year Prison Term For Georgia's Drugs Reform Icon

Beka Tsikarishvili after his court hearing on August 31
Beka Tsikarishvili after his court hearing on August 31

TBILISI -- A court in Georgia has fined a prominent advocate for drug-law reform 2,000 laris ($830) for possession of 69 grams of cannabis, replacing a 14-year prison sentence that was imposed before punishments were softened.

The Tbilisi City Court also ruled on August 31 that Beka Tsikarishvili cannot drive a car, teach, or practice law for five years, and barred him from working in medicine or pharmaceuticals for 10 years.

Tsikarishvili was arrested in May 2013, and his case led to protests across Georgia against strict punishment for drug possession and use.

His 14-year sentence engendered a campaign calling for his release and softer drug laws, and authorities freed him on bail 18 days after his sentence was pronounced.

The "Beka Is Not a Criminal" campaign later transformed into the White Noise Movement, which continues to campaign for drug-law reform.

Amid frequent protests in 2015, Georgia’s Constitutional Court declared imprisonment for possession of 69 grams of cannabis or less unconstitutional.

A year later, the Constitutional Court ruled imprisonment for possession and consumption of any amount of cannabis unconstitutional.

In July, the Georgian parliament amended the law to comply with the ruling, imposing a fine for cannabis possession instead of jail time, but maintaining it as a criminal offense.

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