The Georgia Hemp Farming Act: A Natural
Experiment in Georgia Politics
Marijuana is still illegal in Georgia, much like it is illegal in Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts and Nevada. Marijuana is illegal throughout the United States where marijuana because it is still banned by federal law.
Nevertheless, with the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, Georgia has become more like the states that have “legalized.”
The Georgia Hemp Farming Act was an agriculture bill designed to promote the cultivation of low THC hemp in Georgia. Agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry, hemp may be the next big cash crop, and Republicans need rural votes almost as badly as oxygen.
However, the drafting of Georgia Hemp Farming Bill makes it also impossible to convict ordinary recreational users. The bill amends the definition of marijuana to exclude any substance that is less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Determining THC content is difficult and expensive. The GBI doesn’t have the means to perform such testing on an industrial scale. In a felony prosecution, law enforcement might send suspected marijuana to a private lab for testing. It is very unlikely they will do so in misdemeanors.
This is where politics come in. Atlanta and a handful of smaller cities decriminalized marijuana a couple years ago. They passed local ordinances where marijuana can be punished by a small, civil fine. These cities enforce their gentle ordinances rather than state law. However, the suburban counties in metro Atlanta continued to prosecute marijuana cases until very recently. Criminal prosecution generally means drug testing for those who plead guilty. Civil penalties do not include peeing in a cup.
The Solicitors General of DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb Counties recently stopped prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases. This is good politics. In a 2018 poll, 55% of Georgians favored legalizing marijuana. Only 35% of Georgians wanted to keep marijuana illegal. Metro Atlanta’s suburbs are significantly more liberal than Georgia as a whole. Brian Kemp won the 2018 gubernatorial election by two points. His opponent, Stacey Abrams won the big suburban counties by the following margins:
There simply is no political angle for prosecuting marijuana possession in these counties. Decriminalization might be a problematic stance in a Republican primary. However, solicitors run in non-partisan elections and DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb are majority Democrat. The three solicitors who ceased prosecuting marijuana took almost no risk because they haven’t even decriminalized. They merely decided that marijuana cases are really expensive to prosecute and they’d rather focus on other crimes. Whose gonna get mad about that? The Georgia Hemp Farming Act is mighty convenient for suburban prosecutors.
Henry County is politically similar to Cobb and Gwinnett. Abrams won Henry County by 15%, and a majority of Henry County’s population is nonwhite. There are few political incentives to prosecute marijuana possession. I hope Henry County will join other suburban counties in ending the stupidest battle in the war on drugs.