States across the U.S. are moving towards legalizing cannabis leaving many Georgians wondering where state laws currently stand regarding the controversial plant. While 38 states have either legalized or decriminalized cannabis, Georgia still holds some of the harshest cannabis laws in the nation.
As of 2022, it is illegal to grow, possess or distribute cannabis in Georgia. Possessing an ounce or less of the plant is considered a misdemeanor charge and can be subject up to one year in prison and a maximum of a $1,000 fine. Georgia law states that any other amount of possession or action concerning cannabis, such distribution or cultivation, is considered a felony
“With the Republican legislature right now, it would be pretty hard to get anything more than medical marijuana passed in Georgia,” said Dr. Thomas Hunter, a professor teaching law at the University of West Georgia.
However, recent legislative movements in Georgia look promising for future legalization. Major cities such as Atlanta and Savannah have decriminalized cannabis, meaning that one cannot go to jail for possession of under an ounce of the drug.
In 2019, Georgia passed the Georgia Hope act which allows patients with severe health conditions to possess low-THC medical cannabis oils within Georgia. Legislation is still pending on the distribution of this substance, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The state also allows the sale and possession of CBD products, which contain many health benefits of cannabis without the intoxication that THC brings.
The issue of cannabis use in the U.S. is made more complicated by federal laws which still prohibit cannabis use. Even in states where cannabis is legal, the stiff federal law affects how cannabis is distributed.
“If something is entirely legal in a state, yet the federal government makes it illegal, the feds could still prosecute you for that,” said Dr. Hunter. “Because of pressure put on by their constituents, a number of bills were introduced in congress especially in the 80’s with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No Campaign” to pass federal drug laws even though they are duplicative of state laws.
“Federal banking laws have made it difficult for owners of dispensaries to do business because they are federally insured,” continued Dr. Hunter. “So, a lot of dispensaries have difficulty getting accounts in banks and there’s various problems about the money that they had—what they could do with it, whether they could have a bank account, whether they could deposit it…and problems with crime, because you have this massive hoard of actual cash.”
When states do decide to legalize cannabis, lawmakers are faced with many questions.
“You have this big debate in states about what to allow,” said Dr. Hunter. “[For] states that haven’t made it completely legal, do you do it for medical purposes? What does that mean? And do you go further than that and allow it…how do you allow it? Is it the state itself selling it? So, do you tax it? Is it going to be akin to alcohol or something else?”
Georgia state legislation is set to reconvene sometime in 2022 regarding three bills that will take steps toward the legalization of cannabis, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.