Georgia Bills Would Ease Marijuana Penalties

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A bill introduced last week in the Georgia House would ease penalties on possession of marijuana. And another bill in the Senate would decriminalize possession of a half ounce or less.

This comes as local jurisdictions like the city of Atlanta have decriminalized marijuana possession.

With marijuana use and possession legalized in states like Colorado and Washington, Georgia is not poised to follow suit. From Gov. Nathan Deal on down, state officials have rejected legalization.

But two bills in the legislature would reduce criminal penalties.

Currently it’s a felony in Georgia to possess more than an ounce of marijuana. The two measures would make possession of up to two ounces a misdemeanor. And a Senate bill would decriminalize possession of up to a half ounce, making it punishable by a fine of no more than $300.

Atlanta attorney George Creal says the bills could help ease confusion over what’s become a patchwork of laws governing marijuana possession. “There’s enforcement problems, there’s prosecution problems,” Creal said.

The city of Clarkston started it by decriminalizing most marijuana possession under its city code. Atlanta followed suit, and Fulton County is considering it as well. Yet the state law remains enforceable even in localities where it’s decriminalized.

“You don’t want to have to depend on the discretion of a prosecutor or a judge. You want to be able to know what the law is,” Creal said.

Yet the proposed state laws, while easing marijuana possession penalties, wouldn’t eliminate conflicts with local ordinances.