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Georgia Considers Criminal Penalties for Small Amounts of Hemp

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Under a new bill approved by the Georgia House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, anyone possessing or transporting hemp would be required to carry paperwork proving they are working for a licensed business. Otherwise, small amounts of hemp would result in an arrest.

Under House Bill 847, anyone without a license caught with less than one ounce of hemp plant material would be subject to up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, the same charges for misdemeanor cannabis possession. Last year, the Georgia legislature legalized hemp agriculture and several cities and counties in the Atlanta area have stopped making arrests for low-level cannabis offenses.

“What’s happening here is the criminalizing of a legal substance,” said Mazie Lynn Causey, a lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “What this bill does is it treats hemp as marijuana for the purposes of prosecution.”

Opponents of the bill criticized the state for adding criminal penalties for possessing hemp—which is legal at the federal level. They are also worried that the police can misinterpret the law and prosecute people for possession of raw hemp plants and CBD oil.

“We’re treating it as if it’s a criminal product,” said Rep. Scot Turner, who voted against the bill. “We have the ability to do a test. We’re choosing not to. Why aren’t we just taking the steps necessary to establish the criminal behavior on a product that’s actually illegal?”

Earlier this month, a bill was introduced to the Georgia General Assembly that would change the punishment for possession of small amounts of cannabis. If the bill passes, those caught in possession of less than two ounces of cannabis would be fined $300 instead of going to jail, which is the current law in Georgia.