Senate Hearing Held on Cannabis Penalties; No Vote Taken
(APN) ATLANTA — On Thursday, February 25, 2016, the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee held a first hearing on SB 254, the Marijuana Misdemeanor Bill.
The bill is sponsored by State Senator Harold Jones (D-Augusta) a former prosecuting attorney.
Sen. Jones’s bill would eliminate felony charges for possession of cannabis (“marijuana”) for personal use, regardless of the amount.
Sen. Jones believes that Georgia should allow experts like law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys to decide if the amount of marijuana an individual possesses is for personal use or for selling.
Selling would still carry a felony charge, and anything over ten pounds of cannabis would still be considered trafficking.
Historically, a felony conviction was for serious crimes, not low-level offenses like cannabis possession.
Under current Georgia law, a person with over one ounce of cannabis is charged with a felony and faces jail time and many barriers to future educational opportunities and employment.
A felony charge prevents a person from serving on a jury or a grand jury; and causes expulsion from public and private schools, ineligibility for the HOPE scholarship, a lifetime ban from receiving TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), and loss of voting eligibility and professional license revocation or denial.
“SB 245 is consistent with criminal justice reform efforts that saves taxpayers dollars and saves prison beds for serious crimes,” Marissa Dodson, Southern Regional Advocate, Campaign for Smart Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, testified.
Sharon Ravert, Executive Director of Peachtree NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) testified about a personal experience ten years ago that changed her life. Ravert is a conservative and a registered Republican.
“My teenage daughter was pulled out of bed at 4 am by a drug task force with guns drawn and carried her away in handcuffs for one marijuana joint on her night stand,” Ravert told the committee.
She was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor and they wanted to put her in prison for 26 years. Only one seed is considered a felony because it can be planted, grown, and distributed.
It took years and large amounts of money to clear her daughter, who is now a college graduate.
“One in three kids will be arrested for a nonviolent drug offense before they turn 23 and most will be for marijuana possession. We must stop the flow of our children to prison and SB 254 is a good start,” Ravert said.
Roland Carlisle testified about his delayed college plans as he was detoured into prison for minor cannabis possession.
“I went from an honor roll student to being a felon. It took me six years after being released from prison to finish college,” Carlisle said.
Because of Ban the Box, he is now employed as a Senior Accountant Analyst at Deloitte.
James Bell, Director of Georgia CARE (Campaign for Access, Reform and Education), cited 30,000 marijuana arrests in Georgia each year, for over one ounce.
“We estimate between a half million to one million citizens in Georgia consume cannabis regularly. Marijuana arrests are grossly disproportional based on race,” Bell said.
Marijuana usage is the same among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested, the ACLU reports. In Georgia, Black are four to ten times more like to be arrested for pot.
“SB 254 is not legalization or even decriminalization. It is a harm reduction that will serve the ends of justice without destroying the lives and futures of so many Georgians,” Bell said.
Meanwhile, HB 1046, sponsored by State Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-Atlanta) would remove the possibility of arrest for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis, and would replace arrest with citations and fines.
Half of Georgia voters support legalization of cannabis, and 62 percent support decriminalization, according to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling.
Neither bill received a vote prior to Crossover Day, on yesterday, Monday, February 29, 2016; and, therefore, neither will be able to pass out of the General Assembly this year.