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.
Hundreds of marijuana cases have already been thrown out in Gwinnett County. Gwinnett’s Office of the Solicitor General will no longer prosecute marijuana cases taking place after May 10. Gwinnett police will no longer arrest anyone for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and will instead write tickets. You can still be arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana in Gwinnett County since police can measure THC levels through blood tests.
Richmond County and DeKalb County have joined Gwinnett County in dismissing marijuana cases. No misdemeanor possession cases occurring after the passage of HB 213 will be pursued in DeKalb County. The Richmond County Solicitor’s office has similarly ceased to accept misdemeanor marijuana cases and has dismissed all open misdemeanor possession charges.
Multiple police departments in Cobb County have suspended arrests for misdemeanor possession, but there are no plans to dismiss existing marijuana cases. Any marijuana cases taking place in Cobb before May 10 will proceed as normal, and those taking place afterward will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Police in Paulding County similarly plan to handle marijuana arrests on a case by case basis, although the DA is not prosecuting misdemeanor possession at this time.
Cherokee County will not be dismissing any misdemeanor marijuana cases. Instead, they will be reviewing cases taking place after May 10 on an individual basis. However, the Solicitor General has admitted that the new standards set by HB 213 will make it more difficult to prosecute single-count marijuana possession charges.
Athens-Clarke County has taken a different approach to the situation. Officers in Athens-Clarke will no longer arrest anyone or issue citations for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Instead, they will confiscate any cannabis and write a police report. Athens-Clarke police will seek a warrant for THC levels above the legal limit after a way to measure this is developed.
At present, the GBI Crime Lab is working on a way to accurately distinguish hemp from marijuana. The GBI headquarters lab in Decatur will receive and test suspected marijuana samples, although trafficking and felony level cases will be given priority. Once a means of accurately measuring THC can be found, many of the aforementioned counties plan to resume prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana cases.
Call the Don Turner Legal Team today at (770) 594-1777 if you or someone you know has any questions or concerns regarding HB 213 and how it affects your case.