The Gwinnett County Police Department announced Monday it will no longer write tickets or arrest anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana.
The department publicized the change Monday, days after Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside announced his office would no longer prosecute marijuana cases. Both offices made the change because a new statewide law means a new drug identification test is necessary before marijuana cases can go to court.
The Georgia Hemp Farming Act, signed into law May 10, allows licensed Georgia farmers to grow hemp. Marijuana and hemp are almost identical, but hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces a high. Whiteside and District Attorney Danny Porter say that the law does not address hemp possession by regular citizens, making it legal by default.
The agency has been working on testing to distinguish between hemp and marijuana since the law was signed, according to spokeswoman Nelly Miles. The GBI Crime Lab in Decatur is expected to be able to conduct these tests on suspected marijuana samples by Sept. 3, but the agency will only accept samples from cases involving at least 30 grams or more — enough to qualify for felony charges.
Field tests for officers are still unavailable, Miles said, leaving them with the issue in misdemeanor cases.
The solicitor’s office, which handles misdemeanors, has already dismissed more than 140 marijuana cases in Gwinnett. Misdemeanor marijuana cases from May 10 onward will not be prosecuted, Whiteside said.
The halt in misdemeanor marijuana charges in Gwinnett differs from marijuana policies in Atlanta, unincorporated Fulton County and Clarkston, which decriminalized marijuana through legislative action. In those jurisdictions, misdemeanor possession is still punishable by a fine of up to $75.
While Whiteside will stop misdemeanor marijuana prosecution, Porter, whose office handles felonies, will review felony marijuana charges on a case-by-case basis.
The police department’s move to halt misdemeanor marijuana charges and citations is temporary, Sgt. Jake Smith said. Arrests and citations will resume when a court-accepted THC concentration test is available, Smith said.
The county police department will wait for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to identify new testing methods and protocol, he added, and will follow the agency’s guidance on training officers for this new wrinkle to marijuana prosecution.
While a test exists to determine THC concentration in suspected marijuana, that test is not currently accepted by state law enforcement or courts, Smith said.
“Marijuana is still illegal in Georgia. We want people to remember that,” Smith said. “Once we can get back out there and enforce the law, we will.”
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