Over the past several years, an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both. But marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. And even more importantly for people in Georgia, marijuana is still illegal under Georgia’s state laws. If you are charged with or arrested for possessing, selling, cultivating, or trafficking marijuana in Georgia, you may be subject to criminal penalties, including jail time. The fact that it is legal in other states has no bearing on Georgia law.
Not only that, but most marijuana-related charges are felonies. A felony is a serious crime that mandates at least one year in prison. An arrest record or conviction for marijuana can have very harmful effects on your life. You can be sentenced to prison and assessed fines. Your family life and your work life can both be disrupted. Your driver’s license may be suspended. A felony conviction may make it hard to find a job. If you are a student, it can make it difficult or even impossible to continue your schooling. The economic and personal impact can last for years.
Georgia marijuana laws are complicated. If you have been charged with a marijuana-related crime, you need to understand the provisions of the law and your rights during the legal process. It’s prudent to consult with a seasoned Atlanta drug crime lawyer who can fight to be sure that your legal rights are protected.
The Atlanta area’s extensive growth over the past few decades and its central location in the Southeastern United States have made it a hub for the illegal drug trade as well organized gang activity according to the Georgia Drug Threat Assessment. The Assessment states that marijuana is the most widely available illegal drug in Georgia.
Because of this threat, the Georgia legislature has established serious penalties for drug-related crimes under the Violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act. Being caught with even small amounts of illegal substances, including marijuana, can lead to severe penalties.
The penalties for marijuana possession vary according to the amount you are caught with, as described in Section OCGA 16-13-30 of the Georgia code of laws:
Possessing one ounce or less is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of as much as $1,000.
Possessing between one ounce and 10 pounds is a felony. A felony conviction carries a mandatory prison term of at least one year, and up to a maximum of 10 years. A person convicted of a felony for marijuana possession may also be fined up to $5,000.
Possessing 10 pounds or more is also a felony, and may additionally result in a drug trafficking charge.
Sale or Trafficking
Both possession with intent to sell and trafficking drugs and drug-related objects are felonies that you can be charged with in addition to drug possession. Law enforcement determines whether to bring these charges based on the amount of marijuana you had in your possession, the method of packaging and equipment for packaging involved, whether there were any professional measuring devices present, and whether they find large amounts of cash in addition to the drugs.
Selling or trafficking marijuana is a felony. If you are caught selling or trafficking less than 10 pounds of marijuana, a conviction can carry a jail sentence of one to 10 years. If are caught with between 10 and 2,000 pounds, a conviction will carry a prison term of up to five years, and there is a mandatory $100,000 fine.
A conviction for selling or trafficking 2,000 to 10,000 pounds comes with a mandatory $250,000 fine, and a prison term as long as seven years.
Selling or trafficking more than 10,000 pounds results in a mandatory fine of $1 million and a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Cultivating marijuana is also a felony. Fines and jail time depend on the amount of marijuana you are caught growing.
Is Alternative Sentencing Possible?
Despite the serious penalties imposed by state drug laws, Georgia does have an alternative sentencing program. It’s called the Drug First Offender Act, and is frequently referred to as “conditional discharge.” Under conditional discharge, if the defendant meets the court’s probationary requirements, their case is dismissed and they do not have a criminal conviction on their record.
Whether or not you are eligible for conditional discharge depends on the seriousness of the charge and your criminal history. You also may be eligible to go to a drug treatment program instead of going to prison. If you complete the drug rehabilitation program, the court may waive your charges. Usually, alternative sentencing is a possibility if the drug offense was non-violent and it is the first or second time you have been charged with a similar offense.
First-time offenders may also be eligible for a pretrial diversion program and/or pretrial intervention program. Both are alternatives to state prosecution, and allow the offender to remain in the community with supervision rather than going to jail. If the individual completes the program requirements, the offense does not result in a criminal record.
There are two noteworthy exceptions to marijuana law in Georgia.
First, several cities, including Savannah and Atlanta, have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. This does not make marijuana legal in these cities. Rather, it means that first-time offenders receive a citation for a municipal ordinance infraction, similar in some respects to a traffic ticket and a far lesser charge than either misdemeanor or felony. The maximum fine is $150 in Savannah, for example. Outside of those cities, however, marijuana possession remains a criminal offense—and a conviction for a municipal ordinance infraction can still cost some people their jobs, and make other jobs harder to get, among other consequences. You will want an attorney to represent you in those hearings.
It is also legal for some medical patients to possess as much as 20 ounces of low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), high-cannabidiol (CBD) cannabis oil for medical purposes. It is still illegal to possess or cultivate an entire cannabis plant. Do not confuse this exception with marijuana legalization.
What if You Were Unfairly Accused?
If you have been charged with possessing, selling, or cultivating marijuana and you feel you were unfairly accused, you should discuss your case with an experienced marijuana lawyer.
Some common defenses are:
Unlawful search and seizure
The marijuana was not yours, but someone else’s
The substance you had was not marijuana
Marijuana was planted on you or your property
Let an Atlanta Marijuana Lawyer Help
If you or a loved one is facing a marijuana charge, call Schnipper Law, P.C. today for a free consultation.
At Schnipper Law, we will review all the facts, advise you of your options, and fight vigorously to see that justice is done. Call (404) 545-5845 or contact us today.