Coastal Georgia’s DA will stop prosecuting possession of less than an ounce, dropping cannabis cases
Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones announced that she will stop prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of cannabis. This decision follows similar ones made by police officials across the state and echoes the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to test for small amounts of cannabis. The decision to stop prosecuting low-level victimless offenses like cannabis use frees up police resources to be redirected to crimes that threaten the public; it remains to be seen if similar decisions are made by the district attorneys in other jurisdictions in Georgia as well as other states that have yet to decriminalize cannabis possession.
More counties won’t prosecute cannabis possession
Those in possession of less than one ounce of cannabis, what would be a misdemeanor charge in the county, will no longer be at risk of arrest by police; the decision goes into effect immediately. The exception is if the cannabis charges are included with other felony charges.
One reason cited for the decision is that legal hemp and illegal cannabis are hard to distinguish, so it would be difficult to verify that a person had in fact broken the law. The argument is that going back to investigate such minute details of an arrest would be tedious, time-consuming, and ultimately counterproductive work.
Chatham County joins jurisdictions across Georgia that have already stopped prosecuting low-level possession offenses. The effort to do so by multiple jurisdictions across the state began in 2019 and appears to be gaining momentum.
In other cities and counties in Georgia like Savannah and Atlanta, police have been instructed to write tickets for cannabis possession rather than make arrests, potentially leaving a jail cell available for a violent offender instead.
Jones will continue to allow the arrests of those in possession of more than one ounce of cannabis and those who intend to sell it, and cannabis-impaired driving will still be prosecuted.
Dropping cannabis cases causes potential conflict
Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher vowed to uphold current state and federal laws and continue to arrest people for possessing any amount of cannabis, essentially ignoring Jone’s directive. If an agreement isn’t reached where law enforcement operates on the same page, it spells challenges for both sides and creates real ambiguity and confusion for the public about the law. Attorneys could feel pressured and harassed by the arrival of new low-level possession cases they were instructed not to pursue, and police could feel their work making arrests and upholding the current laws is in vain.
Although cannabis remains illegal in Georgia, the stance of authority figures will slowly start moving the needle towards legalization, catching up to the positive support for cannabis legalization across the US and around the world. Here’s to another milestone in ending prohibition!