Drugs in Georgia

I posted something in a previous post about America exporting its drug war to Georgia. I had a chance to have a long discussion with some Georgian lawyers and police officers about the situation with drugs in Georgia, and my opinion has evolved… somewhat.

First of all, Georgian law enforcement believes that there is a significant drug problem in Georgia. They were able to tell me all of the arguments against drugs that I was told in fourth grade when a narcotics officer visited my school with a brief case full of drugs to explain what horrible things each drug would do to you. For instance, I was told repeatedly that drug addicts do things like sell their furniture, rob their neighbors, etc. However, I also heard a new one – apparently in Georgia, if an addict wants drugs but can’t afford them, the drug dealer will make them a deal – they can get some free drugs by bringing new business to the dealer. So the dealer gives free drugs to the addict, and then free drugs to a new young person, and now has an additional person hooked on drugs.

Second, Georgian drug laws are incredibly harsh. For instance, possession of cocaine with intent to sell carries a life sentence. Murder, on the other hand, carries a sentence of eight to fifteen years. When I asked about why these sentences might be structured this way, the reply was this: a murder ends with the person you kill. Drug selling, however, goes on to propagate through society and harm multiple people. In other words, murder is a crime against an individual, but drug pushing is a crime against all of society.

Third, there is apparently some drug trafficking through Georgia. According to the people I spoke to, there’s a route from Holland to Turkey that runs through Georgia. This seems very odd to me – it seems like just smuggling directly through Europe would be easier – but then again, perhaps central and western Europe have better customs inspections and harsher drug laws than the Soviet Union did. I also didn’t imagine that Turkey was a big destination for hard drugs. So I’m honestly not giving great credence to this story about a Holland to Turkey drug cartel that takes a detour through Russia and the Caucasus. However, I can imagine that drugs headed out from Afghanistan and some of the other poorer -stans where poppy is the only cash crop worth growing and into Russia, the Balkans, and other Eastern European black markets might want to head through Georgia.

On a related note, drug laws have toughened significantly since Soviet times, and from what I could gather, since the Rose Revolution. Since the Rose Revolution was what brought the pro-Western government into power, I’m assuming that the much harsher drug laws are an attempt to come into compliance with the global drug agenda of the US in order to curry favor. So yes, the US is definitely exporting its drug war, in a way.

On the other hand, I have to think about the economic conditions in Georgia between independence in 1991 and the Rose Revolution in 2003. Military and economic conflict with Russia and the remnants of the Soviet system had left many Georgians poor and destitute, and left the country with crumbling infrastructure, few jobs, and a corrupt and ineffective police force. It is not hard to imagine people turning to drugs under those conditions, and indeed, the Georgian law enforcement people I spoke to cited unemployment and poverty as the two main factors contributing to both crime rates and drug use in the country.

So for Georgians, use of drugs is seen as something that goes hand in hand with the social breakdown that accompanies economic crisis. Drug use is something that harms society, that preys on the poor, that destroys families. For many Americans, drug use is seen as a matter of personal choice – if you choose to harm yourself, that’s your choice as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else. We resent the government telling us what to put into our bodies, whether it’s cigarettes, alcohol, trans fats, or marijuana. That attitude goes hand-in-hand with American individualism. For Georgians, families and communities are the more important unit of society, and if hurting yourself also hurts your family and community, you have to be stopped for the good of everyone.

One last example: one Georgian told me that drug addiction reduces the chances that you will be able to have children. It is presumably harder for an addict to find a husband or wife, and there may also be medical problems that interfere with safe conception and incubation of children. I have been told repeatedly by Georgians that having a family is what gives meaning to their lives, that happiness is having a wife and children, etc.

Given that perspective, it’s easy to understand why Georgians are so willing to fall in with US global drug policy. Georgia also doesn’t have the kinds of racial problems that accompany the US drug war. I think that Georgians still have to ask themselves the tough questions about drugs – like whether it’s really fair to punish drug possession more harshly than murder; and how and whether the logic used about addictive drugs and harmful drugs applies to things like cigarettes and alcohol. But I think that there’s also much less of a racist or classist element to the drug laws here and that the police are much less oppressive in this country than they are in America, and so I don’t think that there is an urgent “drug war” social problem here like there is in America – where 50% of the population admits to smoking marijuana, but only black men seem to go to jail for it. And Georgia, unlike America, isn’t funding black ops campaigns, destroying crops, and toppling governments in nearby countries in the name of battling the drug cartels.

In summation: I’m willing to give Georgia a provisional pass on the drug issue, since they seem to be focusing on international trafficking of harder drugs, aren’t getting in anyone else’s business about it, and since their values as a society are different than American values. However, I’m *still* not going to be happy about seeing DEA agents walking around my workplace.

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4 Responses to Drugs in Georgia

  1. ---> says:

    Neil,

    Thank you very much for this post. Within few weeks in the country you understood values and principles of the local society very well and draw right observations – about individualism vs. society values and causes of drug problem in the society.

    I can tell using the example of my generation (men who are 35-45 years old): when I was in Georgia last time I’ve checked with my classmates and discovered that from my school class two boys (we still call each other this way) died in wars, one committed suicide, two are complete drug addicts, one is in jail, six left the country (including me). That from a class of 32 students where 19 were boys – everything happened within the period of years 1991-2001.

    So surge in drug usage in Georgia was not for recreation – desperation, hopelessness and desire to escape from the reality were driving young people towards drugs.

  2. george says:

    yeah for example georgian police can stop you
    take you for drug test. say if you smoked weed couple days
    ago you’ll be fined 500gel and if you are clean you can go))
    kinda discrimination, what about fundamental rights and freedoms? free society
    georgain libertarianism ))
    imagine in canada police stops you for drug check up))
    and if you r addict and refuse to pay fine for being addict you’ll go to jail
    in reality tht’s how police fills it’s budget by fining addicts first time 500 then 1000 then 2000 and finally you r doing time in jail cell

  3. Pingback: Sick | Georgia On My Mind

  4. bubu says:

    Hey Neil,

    I just discovered your blog and enjoy reading it very much – keep up the good work!

    Even though this is an older post I wanted to remark two things for reference:

    Drug trafficking is indeed a real problem for the whole caucasus region as it lies on the main “Balkan Route” for Heroin that is smuggled from Afghanistan to Europe and I bet a good share goes through Georgia as well.

    Drug use at least used to be an omnipresent problem in Georgia as well, but I believe that the harsh punishment has started to show some effect. I’m not so sure about the current state. Heroin and Cocaine were never as popular as cheaper alternatives, though. This is a slightly older but still very interesting article about Subutex:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/12/world/europe/12iht-drug.1954947.html

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