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Changing marijuana enforcement cultivates confusion

Georgia is becoming more tolerant toward the use and cultivation of marijuana. But, different local ordinances and enforcement is causing confusion about enforcement of these drug offenses.

Under state law, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor and punishment can be up to one year of imprisonment or a $1,000 fine. But, 12 Georgia counties or cities passed local laws lowering the penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Approximately 11% of the state's population live in places where it is unlikely that they will be imprisoned for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana.

This has led to different local laws that may be causing confusion. For example, Chamblee is the latest city to decriminalize marijuana and now merely imposes a $75 fine for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana. In the neighboring town of Brookhaven, however, possessing marijuana can lead to one year in jail. Also, municipal laws may not impact every marijuana possession case. Police can still arrest someone and charge them under stricter state laws. If a person is charged with marijuana possession in addition to a more serious offense, the case still goes to state court and the person may face more severe penalties.

Over 23,700 people were arrested in the state for marijuana possession in 2016. This was a significant decline from the 28,000 arrests in 2010. However, the state's population rose by 600,000 over that six-year period. Proponents have called for Georgia to join the 26 other states that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana. Senate Bill 10, which was filed in 2019, would impose a fine of up to $300 for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana instead of imprisonment. A hearing was held, and it is hoped that it will be considered after January.

In 2015, however, Georgia passed a law allowing patients to possess cannabis oil for medical reasons. Bills were passed this year allowing the growing of hemp and medical marijuana oil. This led the solicitors general in Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties to announce that they would dismiss low-level marijuana cases or stop making these arrests because police need tests to determine whether a substance is hemp or marijuana because of their similarity.

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