Since the prohibition, marijuana reform has moved at a painfully slow pace in Georgia where weed is still illegal for the most part. Although its hemp industry is taking off, the state is still currently taking baby steps towards decriminalization. Last June, Democrats in the Peach State included a provision in a proposal that would reduce penalties for simple possession. Under the Georgia Justice Act, possession of half an ounce or less would be brought down to a misdemeanor. This is punishable by a maximum fine of $300 and no jail time. Meanwhile, more than half an ounce but less than two would be penalized by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine, or up to one year of community service.
According to Karen O’Keefe, the state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, the provision should help curb systemic racism and abusive policing by removing the justification of police interaction. However, O’Keefe insisted that legalization was needed to dramatically reduce the number of demeaning searches and stops.
The act may have come at the right time since a few months ago, a measure that would put greater restrictions on possession of dry hemp just got approved. Under House Bill 847, carrying dry hemp without a license became illegal. Before the bill, several counties in Atlanta decided to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana offenses since it was difficult for the police to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. While HB 847 makes things easier for hemp farmers, it could spell trouble for retail customers and small marijuana businesses. Some say that it may give law enforcement justification to search and to seize cannabis that could be hemp based only on suspicion.
Lawmakers believe that the fate of federal marijuana legalization falls squarely on the shoulders of Georgia as the state will determine the results of the Senate Runoff this year. This is because a Democratic win will give the party command over the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. In addition to this, both Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, are in favor of cannabis and drug policy reform.
Overview of Georgia Marijuana Laws
Compared to medical marijuana programs in other states, Georgia’s low-THC program only allows patients to legally possess cannabis oil with THC content of only up to 5%. Marijuana in leaf form, food and products infused with low THC oil, or vaping low THC oil are still prohibited.
- Possession – Possession of up to one ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by a jail sentence of up to 12 months and/or a maximum fine up to $1,000, or public works for up to 12 months.
- Sale – Anything of over an ounce up to 10 pounds is considered possession with intent to distribute/sell is a felony punishable by one up to 10 years in prison. Charges get more serious as the amount of marijuana increase:
- Over 10 pounds but less than 2000 – from 5 to 30 years and a fine of $100,000
- Over 2000 pounds but less than 10,000 – from 7 to 30 years and a fine of $250,000
- 10,000 pounds or more – from 15 to 30 years and a fine of $1,000,000
- Cultivation – Likewise, growing marijuana in Georgia is automatically a felony and is treated the same as distribution and sales. It is important to note that if the offense happens within 1,000 feet of school grounds, a park, or a housing project, or in a drug free zone, it carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $20,000 for a first offense. Second or subsequent offenses are punishable by 5 to 40 years in prison and/or a fine up to $40,000. Additionally, a conviction for possession, sale, or cultivation will lead to the suspension of the offender’s driving license.
History of Marijuana in Georgia
As a state in the deep South right on top of Florida, Georgia also had a turbulent past with cannabis. In fact, even law enforcement succumbed to the lure of marijuana smuggling which prevailed in the region during the 70s and 80s. Some of those convicted were former moonshiners such as Sheriff John David Davis who were caught importing and distributing weed and other illegal substances.
Around this time in 1983, the DEA went after illegal grow sites in the Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia. The feds used the herbicide paraquat which is highly toxic to humans. While citizens and a congressman were able to object and get a temporary restraining order to halt the spraying, Drug Abuse Policy Officer Pat McKelvey dismissed the objections. He insisted that paraquat was a safe and widely used herbicide and alleged that the objections only came from marijuana growers and activists.
In the 80s, the Peach State nevertheless saw a significant push towards medical legalization despite federal resistance. Even though a medical cannabis bill won in the Senate and House, the program ended without supplying medical marijuana to a single patient. Even though succeeding governors had the authority to reappoint the board, not one did so.
Low THC oil
Finally in 2015, a measure that legalized the use cannabis oil with THC content of up to 5% oil was passed in the state’s House of Representatives. While not exactly a medical marijuana program, HB 1 or the “Haleigh’s Hope Act” only allowed patients to use low-THC, CBD-rich cannabis oil. Initially, the bill only listed eight qualifying conditions but was expanded in 2017 to add 6 more under SB 16 and two more in 2018 under HB 65.
The passage of HB 324 last year indicated that Georgia is finally gearing up for a less restrictive medical marijuana program. The legislation will allow commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing and distribution, which means dispensaries will be allowed to operate. However, smoking, vaping or home cultivation will still be illegal and THC will remain capped at 5%. Despite this, opponents of marijuana insist that the proposal could easily lead to the legalization of recreational use in the state.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Georgia
How do Georgia marijuana laws compare with those in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Georgia
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Georgia.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Georgia.
No, medical cannabis is still illegal in Georgia. Only low-THC oil is allowed under the Haleigh’s Hope Act.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Georgia.
The Georgia Justice Act, which was proposed last June, is expected to reduce possession penalties. Once approved, the legislative package is expected to eliminate jail time for possession of half an ounce.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Georgia.
Growing marijuana in Georgia is strictly illegal for residents of all ages.
Based on the pace and nature of marijuana legislation that has been passed in Georgia to date, it is safe to say that home cultivation won’t be allowed within the foreseeable future. It’s likely that lawmakers will focus solely on expanding the state’s existing medical marijuana laws. At present, there’s no real external pressure to force lawmakers to approve a recreational marijuana proposal. Also, since law enforcement in several counties are reportedly only going after felony-level possessions, this could mean that for the time being, those who are possessing or even cultivating amounts of pot for personal use can breathe easy even under current Georgia marijuana laws.