AUGUSTA, Ga. – Since 2012, Georgia’s court system has dealt with more than 30,000 marijuana charges. State Senator Harold Jones says about 90 percent of those was for possession only.
“So we’re actually not catching the persons who are really doing the selling. Most of the persons who are being incarcerated, even if it’s for a short time, is just simply for possession,” says State Senator Jones.
For that reason, Jones, is pre-filing a bill that would reduce the possession charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, regardless of the amount of marijuana found on a person. Currently in Georgia, it is a felony if you’re charged with possession of an ounce or more of marijuana.
“What if you had a whole lot of marijuana on you? You still could be charged with possession with intent. This is only when you think a person is only possessing it for personal use,” says Jones.
Jones says his bill will not affect an already existing law, which makes it a felony to sell.
“Remember, it’s not selling it, that’s still illegal, that’s still a felony. It’s just having possession of it,” says Jones.
The Augusta area lawmaker says by reducing the charge to a misdemeanor, the state could save millions of dollars in court costs and incarceration expenses.
“Look at the type of resources that go into all of that. And what we’re saying is, maybe those resources can be used for other things, such as cyber-crimes, identity theft, things that are kinda blossoming,” says Jones.
Jones also believes the system should have a more rehabilitative approach, instead of punishing approach.
“If you’re charged with a felony and convicted, it can change your right to vote. It takes that away from you. It can take the possibility of getting scholarships. It can take the possibility of getting federal housing, so there are a lot of things that happen by getting that felony.”
Unlike most states, Georgia does not differentiate, for sentencing purposes, between possession for personal use and manufacture or sale. Jones believes this bill falls into Governor Nathan Deal’s initiative for criminal justice reform.