Prosecutor becomes latest in Georgia to drop marijuana cases

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The district attorney for Georgia’s largest coastal county has become the latest statewide prosecutor to say she will generally stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases involving possession of less than an ounce of drugs.

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones made the announcement on Tuesday. Like other prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs who have halted marijuana enforcement, she cited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to test small amounts of marijuana unless further felony charges not be involved.

“Without a verified test, the state cannot prove that the defendant violated the law,” Jones said in a statement.

She also cited Georgia’s 2019 law that made growing hemp illegal, saying it’s hard to tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.

The change started 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.

“Eliminating low-level, petty crimes that do not threaten public safety and do not involve a victim allows the state to focus already limited resources on serious cases that do,” Jones said.

A number of cities and counties in Georgia, including Savannah, Atlanta and Macon-Bibb County, have also reduced penalties for possession of marijuana. They told the police to just write a ticket and not take anyone to jail.

Jones said she will 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 reduce marijuana penalties, told WTOC-TV he supports the move. “I think that makes sense,” he said.

But Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher said he must follow federal and state laws and that his deputies will always arrest anyone with any amount of marijuana.

State lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have introduced a number of bills in the Georgia General Assembly aimed at legalizing marijuana or reducing penalties for possession, but none have moved forward.

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