Savannah, Ga. ( Associated Press) — The district attorney for Coastal Georgia’s largest county has become the latest prosecutor statewide to say that he will stop prosecuting abuse marijuana cases typically 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 withheld marijuana enforcement, he cited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to test small quantities of marijuana unless other felony charges were involved.
“Without a verifiable 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 the cultivation of hemp illegal, saying it is difficult to tell the difference between legal cannabis and illegal marijuana.
Change started immediately.
Officials in other jurisdictions, including the Atlanta suburbs of Cobb, DeKalb and Gwynette counties, as well as Athens-Clark County and Augusta-Richmond County, have made similar announcements since 2019.
“Tackling low-level petty crimes that do not threaten public safety and do not involve the victim allows the state to focus its already limited resources on serious cases,” Jones said.
Several cities and counties in Georgia, including Savannah, Atlanta and Macon-Bib Counties, have also reduced penalties for possessing marijuana. He has asked the police to just write a ticket and not take anyone to jail.
Jones said she would still prosecute people with more than an ounce of marijuana, those who sell the drug, those who have it around children or in school areas and who drive while they are disabled.
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 representatives will still arrest anyone who possesses marijuana.
State lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have introduced several bills to the Georgia General Assembly seeking to legalize marijuana or reduce penalties for possession, but none have moved forward.