The district attorney of coastal Georgia’s largest county has become the latest prosecutor statewide to say she’ll generally stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases involving possession of less than an ounce of the drug.
Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones made the announcement Tuesday. Like other prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs who have stopped marijuana enforcement, she cited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to test for small amounts of marijuana unless other felony charges are involved.
“Without a verified test, the state cannot prove that the accused violated the law,” Jones said in a statement.
She also cited Georgia’s 2019 law that made hemp farming illegal, saying it’s hard to tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.
The change began immediately.
Officials in other jurisdictions including the Atlanta suburbs of Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, as well as Athens-Clarke County and Augusta-Richmond County have made similar announcements since 2019.
“Disposing of low-level petty offenses that do not threaten public safety and do not involve a victim allows the state to focus already-limited resources on the serious cases that do,” Jones said.
A number of Georgia cities and counties, including Savannah, Atlanta and Macon-Bibb County have also reduced penalties for possessing marijuana. They’ve told police to only write a ticket and not take someone to jail.
Jones said she would still prosecute people with more than an ounce of marijuana, those who sell the drug, those who possess it around children or in school zones and those who drive while impaired.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who led that city’s previous efforts to cut marijuana penalties, told WTOC-TV that he supports the move. “I think it just makes sense,” he said.
But Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher said he must uphold state and federal laws and that his deputies will still arrest anyone possessing any amount of marijuana.
State lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have introduced a number of bills in the Georgia General Assembly seeking to legalize marijuana or reduce penalties for possession, but none have advanced.