With 50 states in the union, one state will have the distinction of having the toughest marijuana laws on the books. Georgia marijuana laws would be a close contender for that number one spot. Although they are somewhat lenient for a first time possession charge, beyond that the penalties for being caught with, selling or growing marijuana are extremely severe. Having such strict laws would mean that medical marijuana exemptions are non-existent.
Even with those tough laws, Georgia still arrests around 25,000 people on marijuana charges every year. Local growers also try to get away with an estimated 85,000 pounds of pot generated annually.
Part of the Georgia marijuana penalties is a tax stamp. This means that an additional $3.50 per gram tax stamp is required to be bought by the offender for whatever amount they are caught with. On top of the potential fines, this tax stamp can add up to a costly penalty.
Possession of marijuana in Georgia
If a person is caught with less than one ounce of marijuana in their possession and it is their first offense they will be charged with a misdemeanor and given probation. That’s as far as the leniency goes in Georgia. Being convicted of a second possession offense of less than one ounce comes with one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A person arrested with one ounce or more of pot in their possession will be charged with a felony and could serve one to ten years in jail along with paying a fine determined by the judge. If that possession charge occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, park or other designated drug free zone the jail time can potentially be 20 years along with a $20,000 fine. If you are convicted of under the same special circumstances for a second time, you’ll be subjected to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a $40,000 fine.
Georgia Marijuana Growing and Selling Penalties
Any arrest for growing or selling marijuana comes with a felony charge. For any amount less than 10 pounds the possible jail time is one to ten years. A conviction for selling or growing amounts of 10 to 2,000 pounds comes with a minimum of five years in jail and a $100,000 fine.
When the amount goes up to 2,000 to 10,000 pounds then the jail sentence goes up to seven years minimum and $250,000 fine. A conviction for an amount exceeding 10,000 pounds of pot is an automatic 15 years in jail and $1,000,000 fine.
If the arrest involves any business with a minor, then there is an automatic five year jail term and $30,000 fine. When an offender is caught using a phone or any other communication device in the commission of the crime an additional four years can be added to their sentence.
Georgia Marijuana Paraphernalia Penalties
There are no jail sentences or fines for a conviction pertaining to possessing or selling marijuana paraphernalia. However, a conviction comes with a suspended driver’s license. First offense is one year. Second offense is two years and so on. There is also the potential of having any type of professional business license suspended if convicted of this charge.
Georgia Hemp Law
Georgia Hemp Farming Act (HB 213) was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp on May 10, 2019. This bill makes it legal for Georgia farmers to grow and sell industrial hemp, a strain of the cannabis Sativa plant. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the chemical that causes the “high” sensation experienced when smoking marijuana. As a result, it is not classified as a Schedule I substance.
The text of HB 213 only addresses who is permitted to grow and sell hemp. Many law enforcement officials, however, believe that its wording makes hemp possession legal by default. It does not, however, legalize marijuana possession or sale in Georgia. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is still considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine. Possession of more than an ounce is considered a felony, with a maximum prison sentence of ten years.
HB 213 had an unanticipated impact on Georgia law enforcement. There is currently no accurate way for police to measure the THC concentration in cannabis. As a result, law enforcement has found it difficult to distinguish between marijuana and the now-legal industrial hemp. As a result, counties throughout metro Atlanta have been forced to alter their approach to prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases.
In Gwinnett County, hundreds of marijuana cases have already been dismissed. After May 10, Gwinnett’s Office of the Solicitor General will no longer prosecute marijuana cases. Gwinnett police will no longer arrest anyone for misdemeanor marijuana possession and will instead issue tickets. You can still be arrested in Gwinnett County for driving under the influence of marijuana because police can measure THC levels through blood tests.
Richmond and DeKalb counties have joined Gwinnett in dismissing marijuana charges. DeKalb County will not prosecute misdemeanor possession cases that occur after the passage of HB 213. Similarly, the Richmond County Solicitor’s office has stopped accepting misdemeanor marijuana cases and dismissed all open misdemeanor possession charges.
Multiple Cobb County police departments have suspended arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession, but there are no plans to dismiss existing marijuana cases. Marijuana cases in Cobb before May 10 will be handled normally, while those after that will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Police in Paulding County intend to handle marijuana arrests on a case-by-case basis, as the DA is not currently prosecuting misdemeanor possession.
No misdemeanor marijuana cases will be dismissed in Cherokee County. Instead, cases occurring after May 10 will be reviewed on an individual basis. However, the Solicitor General has admitted that the new standards imposed by HB 213 will make prosecuting single-count marijuana possession charges more difficult.
Athens-Clarke County has approached the situation differently. Officers in Athens-Clarke will no longer arrest or cite anyone for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Instead, they will seize any marijuana and file a police report. After a method to measure THC levels above the legal limit is developed, Athens-Clarke police will seek a warrant.
The GBI Crime Lab is currently working on a method to distinguish hemp from marijuana. The GBI headquarters lab in Decatur will receive and test suspected marijuana samples, with priority given to trafficking and felony-level cases. Many of the aforementioned counties intend to resume prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana cases once a method of accurately measuring THC is developed.