This is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 34: Georgia. This State still has fairly harsh criminal penalties at the lower end, but has (relatively) less onerous penalties for more serious crimes and it is showing progress with medical marijuana.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. Georgia’s Controlled Substances Act does not include marijuana as a scheduled substance. However, it is still regulated under the State’s CSA. If a person has no prior drug convictions and is found guilty of possession of marijuana, a judge may withhold a finding of guilt and place that person in a treatment program. This requires that the person agrees to terms with a judge, usually requiring rehabilitation treatment. Additionally, when a person is convicted a felony punishable by a term of less than ten years, a judge may impose punishment for a misdemeanor. The maximum fine for a misdemeanor is $1,000 (0r $5,000 for a “high and aggravated” penalty) and up to one year in prison.
Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana can earn either up to one year in prison and a fine up to $1,000 or a year of public works (community service). Possession of larger amounts earns a sentence between one and ten years.
The State reserves harsher penalties for a person who knowingly sells, manufactures, grows, or delivers marijuana:
- Under 10 pounds earns 1-10 years in prison
- 10-2,000 pounds earns 5-30 years in prison and a $100,000 fine
- 2,000-10,000 pounds earns 7-30 years in prison and $250,000 fine
- Over 1o,000 pounds earns a 15-30 year sentence and a $1,000,000 fine.
Medical Marijuana. Late in 2015, Georgia passed House Bill 1 which allows patients who suffer from cancer, sickle cell disease and other illnesses to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil with a physician’s authorization. Universities in Georgia are also authorized to study the effect of the high-CBD oil. The bill only allows for high-CBD, low-THC oil and does not provide a means for patients to obtain the oil. This means Georgia patients must travel to other states or turn to the black market to receive their medicinal oil.
In 2016, Georgia passed House Bill 722 which would have allowed for in-state cultivation of the CBD oil. The bill passed but the provision allowing cultivation of the oil was removed. Therefore, patients are not able to legally obtain CBD oil created in Georgia.
Despite recent challenges, reform to Georgia’s medical marijuana may be on the way. Polls by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSBTV Atlanta, and Opinion Savvy all show that medical marijuana has strong support among Georgia voters. Given this support, it is likely that medical marijuana reform is coming to the Peach State.
Bottomline. Georgia’s criminal penalties are fairly harsh and the State and both legalization and decriminalization seem fairly far off. However, Georgia allows for first-time offenders to receive alternative penalties and gives judges discretion to reduce cannabis felonies to misdemeanors. Georgia medical marijuana is largely unworkable, but public support shows change could be coming. We fervently hope Georgia continues on its path (but faster) towards reducing its cannabis criminal penalties and providing patients with more palatable options when it comes to medical marijuana. If it does all that, things could start looking more peachy for Georgia cannabis.