Georgia has delayed plans to legalize cannabis production after the country’s influential Orthodox church embarked on a series of high-profile protests.

Bishops declared that cannabis cultivation is “unacceptable” and argued that it carries security risks.

The Georgian Constitutional Court passed a law to legalize marijuana earlier this summer, and now the government wants to regulate the production of cannabis to allow growers to export it around the world. A draft bill is underway, and legislators are determined to push it through, but they have been thwarted by the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate’s heavy criticism of the proposed legislation.

Bishops declared that cannabis cultivation is “unacceptable” and argued that it carries security risks. Georgia is a deeply religious country and the influential Patriarchal locum tenens Shio Mujiri said cannabis goes against the Christian religion and traditional family values.

The church has a strong anti-LGBT stance and it has accused the LGBT community of “promoting a drastically liberalized drugs policy that contradicts church teachings”. It has seemingly lumped cannabis in with all other drugs for the purposes of its propaganda war.

But the government hit back, as parliament speaker Iraki Kobakhidze said: “The society is not properly informed. There is false information being spread, there are speculations, so we need to pay particular attention to informing the public and decide [on the legislation] together with them.”

The Georgian government hopes to turn the country into a major exporter of cannabis to spark an economic upturn. The Georgian Interior Ministry promised to regulate it within a strict legal framework, and it said it is still treating the bill as a matter of urgency. The church has forced a delay, but legislators will return to parliament next week to devise a new plan.

Zurab Japaridze, the presidential candidate from the libertarian New Political Center, said: “The use of marijuana is legal and there should be legal ways for obtaining legal substances. Marijuana production should become a usual business. It may be regulated, but not monopolized.”

The church says the economic benefits of a regulated medical marijuana industry will be paltry if it compromises the well-being of Georgian children. But it appears to be fighting a losing battle. In a recent sermon, Patriarch Ilia Il seemed to accept that the bill will be given the green light, but he urged the government to take control of cultivation rather than handing it over to the private sector.

The government has remained steadfast and there should be some interesting developments in this saga next week.