All of the Obstacles To Marijuana Legalization in Georgia


Four months ago, HT writer Chris Roberts asked if Georgia would be the next state to legalize marijuana. As a resident of Greater Atlanta, I hate to break the news but the answer is “no.” Georgia House Bill 645, allowing for “lawful possession or control of certain amounts of low THC oil” for “certain circumstances” did not pass during the most recent legislative session. Neither did HB 865, which would have made possession of certain quantities of herb a misdemeanor. Even before the vote, the law was given a 7 percent chance of passing.

Just a reminder: This is Georgia we’re talking about. There are not many surprises here.

Changes in the State

That doesn’t mean things aren’t changing. Term-limited Georgia governor Nathan Deal did sign HB 65 into law, which added post-traumatic stress disorder and “intractable pain” to the state’s growing list of conditions considered treatable by cannabis oil. And, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, somewhere around 4,000 people are listed in Georgia’s medical marijuana registry and are carriers of the state’s Low THC Oil Registry Card.

Progress is progress, and in the deeply conservative South, it’s easy to be amazed at the giant steps Georgia has taken to legalize medicinal marijuana, particularly over the past eight years under Governor Deal. But progress isn’t the goal, and while it’s great that we’ve moved the ball forward on legal cannabis, the reality of the current situation here in the Peach State is pretty terrible, thanks to all sorts of problematic issues that hover above like a cloud of mids, keeping everyone stuck in a hazy limbo on exactly where we are now and what will happen next.


You could be completely colorblind and still know without a doubt that Georgia is a red state. And there’s a chance it could become significantly redder, depending on the outcome of the upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election.

There’s going to be a runoff on the Republican side between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Between the two, Cagle is seen as the moderate, even though his recent retaliation toward Delta Airlines over the company’s severing of ties with the National Rifle Association shows that he’s not above grandstanding to please his base when it’s voting/fundraising time. Whether you think that’s the lesser of two evils when compared to Kemp’s primary campaign ads, like the one in which he promised to “round up criminal illegals” in his own big truck might depend on what kinda stuff you like to smoke (from the way things appear it might not even be weed).

Politicians and Pot

Assuming history knows best and Georgia elects another Republican, you can expect Cagle to be more open to expanding the state’s legalization efforts (at least according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution), while Kemp will fight any in-state cannabis cultivation in a state with boundless agricultural capability. Neither of these situations point to the sort of systems in place in states like California prior to wide legalization.


It’s unclear what motivates Cagle and Kemp, and those who would support them. But it is notable that an AJC poll of 940 Georgia voters (administered by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center) showed that Georgians like weed: 77 percent of participants said the state’s medical marijuana law should be expanded to “allow the harvesting and distribution of medical marijuana with strict controls.” Even when it comes to recreational and miscellaneous marijuana use, those polled voted 50 percent to 46 percent in favor of legalizing it.

On the other hand, Democrat Stacey Abrams, who won a historic primary to become the nation’s first woman of color to become a state’s major party nominee for governor, seems to be clearly in favor of relaxing marijuana policy in Georgia, and quite heavily. She tweeted in February that with the creation of “a strong substance abuse network,” she would back recreational use, and until then she’d continue to be a supporter of decriminalization, medical marijuana, and local cultivation.

There’s also a lot of conflicting information—and, with that, a lot of confused people. I looked into this back in April, before Governor Deal’s recent PTSD and pain inclusion move. It’s definitely worth educating yourself if you plan to use marijuana, particularly since there seems to be no possible way to legally get it right now.


And with all the celebration that occurred when former mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council announced the decriminalization of weed, many people don’t seem to realize that you can absolutely still be arrested for having or smoking it anywhere in the city or state.

To look on the bright side, by signing HB 645, Governor Deal has mandated the creation of a 15-member commission, which will look into how cannabis oil is accessed in Georgia, and spend time evaluating elements such as testing, manufacture, dispensing and security of the current controlled substance. And with the state registry continuing to grow, it will certainly be worth watching to see how the governor’s race affects things, and what else other than peaches Georgia residents might one day be able to grow as a result.

Georgia Adds Pain and PTSD as Conditions for Medical Marijuana


After months of working its way to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk, a new bill hoped to add intractable pain and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Georgia. And yesterday, Governor Deal signed the bill into law.

A Look at Marijuana in Georgia

Georgia has been easing up on weed penalties for a while. Last fall, Atlanta, the largest city and capital, passed a referendum that decriminalized marijuana. Now, Atlantans cannot be jailed for possession, and the maximum fine is a low $75.



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Since then, lawmakers have introduced new legislation that would extend decriminalization to the whole state. The first bill, House Bill 865, would reclassify possession of 2 ounces as a misdemeanor. Additionally, Senate Bill 105 would decriminalize up to half an ounce, and lower the fine.

Of course, selling, transporting, and growing marijuana would still be illegal. Though this legislation is by no means lenient, it is a movement towards tolerance.

The State’s Medical Marijuana Laws Are Evolving

Georgia legalized medical marijuana in 2015 but continues to expand its list of qualifying conditions. In 2017, Republican State Representative Allen Peake introduced a bill to the House that doubled the list of ailments treatable with medical pot.

The list included HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, autism, autoimmune disease, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy. Today, increasing scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that marijuana can treat these illnesses.


To date, approximately 4,000 Georgians have medical marijuana cards.

This Week, Lawmakers Added More Conditions

On Monday, House Bill 65 reached the final step in the legislative process. Thanks to Governor Nathan Deal’s signature, patients with intractable pain and PTSD can now access medical marijuana.

Getting this bill through was not easy due to intense opposition. A supporter of the legislation, House Rep. David Clark, had some harsh words for the President of the Senate, Casey Cagle. “There are lives at stake. This isn’t a game. … People are dying,” he said to Cagle.

This bill’s passage does not mean that you can get marijuana in any form. Even with a doctor’s approval, you can’t legally smoke marijuana. This legislation only permits is low-THC cannabis oil.

Unfortunately, you may not even be able to get weed oil due to a huge caveat in the new law. Cardholders still have no legal way to get their medicine because you cannot grow marijuana or bring it from one place to another. You cannot legally import it from another state, either.


Georgia’s Medical Marijuana Program Is Far From Complete

Since there isn’t a legal way for patients to obtain medical marijuana, the state is still essentially forcing people to break the law to access medicine they’re legally allowed to have. In early 2018, lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would have allowed cannabis cultivation. As is the case in Washington D.C.with recreational weed, lawmakers need to find a way to get people access to a substance they’ve legalized.

Despite Georgia’s conservatism when it comes to medical marijuana, some are optimistic that recreational marijuana is coming. This southern state needs to up its tax revenue, and last year, they failed to legalize casinos. As seen in Colorado, marijuana is an untapped source of state income.

Whether discussing medical or recreational marijuana, Georgia’s biggest obstacle is its unique legislative process. A vote cannot legalize weed, so it would need to go through lawmakers… which seems less than likely with a Republican majority in the Georgian Senate and House.

Could Drivers Under 21 Lose Their License If Caught With Marijuana?


Both detractors and proponents of legal cannabis can, for the most part, agree on one thing—there should be a set of regulations for driving under the influence of marijuana. However, as it stands, most cannabis-legal states do not have a set of rules, or even, a viable way to accurately test drivers for cannabis consumption. Now, lawmakers in California are considering a set of regulations for one sector of the cannabis consumer community—underage users. Which begs the question: could drivers under 21 lose their license if caught with marijuana?

A New Initiative


California drivers under the age of 21 could lose their license for a year due to new regulations. Getting caught driving with cannabis could result in a year of hitchhiking and public transportation.

Much like alcohol, California residents must be 21 or over to purchase and legally consume pot. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) explained that the upcoming provisions will also closely mirror pre-existing legislation. Especially when it comes to underage drinking and driving.

He added that “the state will adhere to a strict ‘zero-tolerance'” policy.


“This bill will save lives by making it illegal for drivers under age 21 to drive under the influence of marijuana, just like current law for alcohol,” Sen. Hill said in a statement.

The proposed bill, titled SB 1273, would test drivers suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis for delta-9- THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana.

However, this remains a challenge as the state does not have a way to measure the plant in the body. Nor do they have a way of determining a unified standard for impairment

“We don’t have a device in the field to measure impairment by cannabis,” said the California Highway Patrol.


Final Hit: Could Drivers Under 21 Lose Their License If Caught With Marijuana?

There are potentially severe implications for underage drivers. Despite this, the bill will take exception to medical marijuana patients.

Provided they have the necessary documents to prove they use the plant for strictly medical conditions. Still, testing those without one still remains in the premature stages of development.

The bill expects officers to perform either an oral swab saliva test or another chemical field test, but no such form of testing has proven to accurately test for cannabis, especially considering the fact that THC can remain in a regular smoker’s system for over a month.

It even shows up in urine tests.  According to some of Hill’s aides, there are currently prototype devices being used in some California jurisdictions under limited use.

Michigan has also undergone a pilot program to test drivers saliva for a variety of drugs, including amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates and cannabis.

Former Head of the NRA Calls Demands Gun Reform for Medical Marijuana Patients


Whether its restrictions on their banking activities, ability to travel, medical care, or education, medical marijuana patients still have freedom to fight for in America — including their inability to legally own a gun.

Last week, the former head of the National Rifle Association (NRA) came out in defense of medical marijuana users in an opinion piece for The Washington Times, pleading with the federal government that “trading a constitutional right for pain relief is a choice no one should have to make.”

“Since gun purchasers must sign a form swearing they are not habitual drug users,” said David Keene, who is now an editor at large for the news outlet, “a holder of a marijuana prescription cannot both answer the question honestly and buy a firearm today from a gun dealer anywhere in the country.

This restriction on gun ownership can be traced back to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), who classify those with medical marijuana recommendations as “admitted drug users” who are banned from buying, possessing, or utilizing a gun. Medical marijuana users who own guns live in a constant state of uncertainty as they grapple with state and federal law discrepancies.

In 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs many legalized marijuana states on the western side of the country, ruled that the federal laws restricting medical marijuana users from legally obtaining firearms do not conflict with the 2nd Amendment, meaning patients are not having their rights violated by the prohibition. The court’s reasoning behind the ruling was cannabis has been known to cause “irrational or unpredictable behavior.”

According to federal law, a “user and/or an addict of any controlled substance” is prohibited from obtaining a firearm, yet the law ignores countless people toting guns while addicted to opioid painkillers because they are shielded by verbiage, namely a “prescription,” rather than the “recommendation” doctors are limited to when a patient’s care calls for marijuana.

If you’re wondering where the federal government was able to establish a precedent as far as cannabis causing violent behavior, the 9th Circuit Court credits a 2014 case from the 4th Circuit Court in Virginia that suggests “a significant link between drug use, including marijuana use, and violence.”

Estimates place the number of doctor recommendation-holding medical marijuana users at roughly 2.3 million in legal states from Connecticut to California, though the numbers are fairly conservative considering the hit-or-miss registration and reporting from state to state — another reason we need federally-regulated cannabis. That’s at least 2 million Americans who are barred from taking advantage of their 2nd Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

The book Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know, written by drug policy experts Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken, and Jonathan Caulkins, outlines how mainstream drugs used by millions of Americans are actually far more harmful to the psyche of a gun owner than cannabis.

“There is a good deal of evidence showing an association between alcohol intoxication and pharmacologically induced violent crime,” the book explains.

Keene calls out the DEA in his op-ed, pointing out that cannabis has been grossly miscategorized on the Controlled Substances Act scheduling system for almost five decades, situated on the same top tier class as heroin, referred to as more dangerous than drugs like cocaine and fentanyl that cause countless overdoses.

The former NRA leader also points out the confusion this legal gray area causes for law enforcement.

State law enforcement officials are in a quandary as to which laws to enforce and as a result no one knows what to expect. In Oregon, a sheriff denied several concealed carry applications because he believed possession of a medical marijuana card was an admission of illegal drug use, while an Arizona gun owner who asked the Phoenix police if she had a problem because she has a medical marijuana prescription was told she was fine as long as she doesn’t run into a “federal” officer or get caught on federal land with both a gun and a prescription card.

While many gun owners who also utilize the medical benefits of cannabis are currently left confused as to which laws to abide by, this dilemma further highlights the need for the federal government to get on the same page as the states, especially when there is such a vast gap in policy. 

Georgia Seeks To Reduce Penalties For Marijuana


With two bills introduced in the state’s government, Georgia seeks to reduce penalties for marijuana possession. The capital city of Georgia, Atlanta, has already decriminalized possession. Are lawmakers trying to get the entire state on board?

The Bills

Before we talk about the two bills that were introduced in Georgia, let’s go over the current state of things. As of now, possessing more than one ounce of cannabis in Georgia is considered to be a felony. But within the city limits of Atlanta, the capital, marijuana is decriminalized up to one ounce.

And Georgia, does, in fact, have a medical marijuana program. Last year, the state’s medical marijuana program was expanded to include more qualifying conditions to grant more people access to the life-saving plant.

While the state’s leadership has been against legalization, a faction of lawmakers in Georgia seeks to reduce penalties for marijuana. As a step to accomplish this, two bills have been introduced to the House and the Senate.

House Bill 865 aims to knock the criminal code for cannabis possession down a peg. This bill’s stated goal is to make the possession of the herb a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Well, up to two ounces would be a misdemeanor, that is.


The second bill, introduced to the Senate, follows in the same vein as the House bill. Titled simply as Senate Bill 105, if passed, this state-wide measure would decriminalize marijuana up to half an ounce. The subsequent fine would not exceed $300.

Admittedly, these measures are not particularly generous. But it’s a start.

Final Hit: Georgia Seeks To Reduce Penalties For Marijuana

The issue of cannabis legalization versus decriminalization is interesting, to say the least. While Georgia leadership has rejected the idea of all-out legalization, they have successfully fought for and established a medical marijuana program. And considering that the capital city has decriminalized marijuana possession, it looks like the attitudes in Georgia are shifting for the better.

Still, decriminalization in one city cannot solve everything. Attorney George Creal elaborated on this issue to local reporters. He also expanded on why state-wide decriminalization should move forward.

“There’s enforcement problems, there’s prosecution problems,” he said, referring to the decriminalization in certain cities. “You don’t want to have to depend on the discretion of a prosecutor or a judge. You want to be able to know what the law is.”


It’s a statement weighted by the truth. Especially since marijuana arrests in the United States have a clear racial disparity.

While decriminalization is far from legalization, these measures, if passed, could plant the seed for a more just legal system.

Could Georgia Be The Next State To Vote For Legalized Weed?


Medical cannabis is a conservative value. Just last week in Texas, a six-year-old girl received the state’s first shipment of legal medical marijuana. Now, the question is which southern state will be the first to legalize recreational marijuana outright. Looking around the south, the chief suspect is in the southeast. So: Could Georgia be the next state to vote for legalized weed?

Legalization Where The Marijuana Laws Are Toughest?

Georgia is more liberal on cannabis than you may think. Atlanta lawmakers ended criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession in October. That paved the way for state lawmakers to support legalization in numbers never before seen.

State Senator Curt Thompson tried to legalize cannabis in Georgia last year. His bill failed, in no small part because he was the only sponsor. This time around, five other state lawmakers attached their names to the effort.

Decriminalization is nice, but legalization is much better. Georgia has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country. Possession of more than two ounces is punishable by a ten-year prison term, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

That’s bad. And that’s something cities can’t fix on their own.


“To get rid of the gangs, to get rid of the organized crime unit, that is the only way to do it is to do it statewide,” Thompson told WTOC.

Based on numbers from Colorado, if Georgia were to legalize and tax recreational cannabis, it would mean more than $340 million in tax revenue. Big money! And money that Georgia is desperate to find from somewhere. Anywhere. This is why the answer to “Could Georgia be the next state to vote for legalized weed” is a strong maybe.

If Not Casinos, Then Cannabis

Georgia lawmakers have spent the past few years furiously searching around for a source of income. They’ve tried several times to legalize casinos with no luck.

So instead of casinos, why not marijuana?

Thompson’s plan is short on details. The bill he’s introduced only authorizes the state assembly to send the question to voters. Every other point, such as who can grow it and how it’ll be taxed or sold, is still up in the air.


That said, Thompson wants to split that $340 million windfall between education and transportation.

If the bill passes the state Legislature, it would go to the voters in November 2018 for their final approval.

That’s a mighty big if.

Final Hit: Could Georgia Be The Next State To Vote For Legalized Weed?

2018 is already shaping up to be a banner year for marijuana legalization. Vermont’s governor signed a legalization bill into law in January. New Jersey’s governor is on notice to fulfill a similar promise. And backers of a legalization effort in Michigan say they have more than enough support to pass a ballot measure in November.

Where does that leave Georgia? In the south, unfortunately. Support for legalization so far is limited to urban areas like Atlanta. Lawmakers in other sparsely populated areas of the state aren’t quite so keen. Not even coastal Savannah, with its renowned arts and cultural scene, is down with legal weed.

In fact, lawmakers are both the solution and the problem.


Georgia has no citizen-initiated ballot initiative process. Changes to the state Constitution go before voters, but only legislators can send a question to the ballot.

So legalization’s only path forward is via state lawmakers. Until this year, no state had accomplished that. And so far, only Bernie Sanders’s home state has managed that trick. Can the home of SEC football be the next? It’s at least possible.