On May 10, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed the Georgia Hemp Farming Act (HB 213) into law. This bill allows farmers in Georgia to legally grow and sell industrial hemp, a strain of the cannabis sativa plant. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the chemical responsible for the “high” felt when smoking marijuana. It is therefore not considered a Schedule I substance.
The text of HB 213 only addresses who can grow and sell hemp. However, many law enforcement officials feel its wording makes hemp possession legal by default. It does not, however, legalize the possession and sale of marijuana in Georgia. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine up to $1,000. Possession of more than an ounce is considered a felony, with the maximum sentence being up to ten years in prison.
HB 213 has carried an unforeseen consequence for Georgia law enforcement. There is currently no way for police to accurately measure the THC concentration in cannabis. This has made it difficult for law enforcement to accurately distinguish between marijuana and the now-legal industrial hemp. As a result, different counties around metro Atlanta have been forced to change their approach to prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases.