As Gwinnett County climbs ever closer to 1 million residents, its jail population of people popped with baggies of pot is going to shrink.
That’s the word from police officials in Georgia’s second most populous county this week, who like their brethren in cities from Atlanta to Macon and Savannah will no longer arrest people found carrying an ounce of marijuana or less.
But unlike roughly a dozen other jurisdictions across Georgia, Gwinnett police won’t even issue fines for what formerly constituted misdemeanor pot cases, effective immediately. (Anyone caught with a bag of pot in Atlanta, for example, can face up to a $75 fine now, but that’s left to the officer’s discretion.)
Is it evidence of a progressive liberal takeover in long-conservative Gwinnett, where even MARTA rail transit had a respectable showing in March’s referendum? Not exactly.
The changes come in light of “The Georgia Hemp Farming Act” becoming law in early May.
That law allows licensed growers to produce—and buyers to possess—hemp with a THC concentration of .3 percent or less. Problem is, determining the difference between legal hemp and illegal ganja with THC potency of between 10 and 35 percent is extremely difficult, even under a microscope, as both look and smell the same, according to Gwinnett police spokesman Sgt. Jake Smith.
Tests currently used by Gwinnett police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab only detect the presence of THC, not its potency in plants.
With prosecution being difficult, Smith said, as of Monday the police force of nearly 900 “will not make custodial arrests or issue citations for crimes related to misdemeanor amounts of marijuana,” per a press release.
Misdemeanor cases in Gwinnett dating back to May 10, when the hemp measure became law, will also be tossed out. The county’s solicitor general’s office dismissed more than 100 cases on Wednesday alone, the AJC reported last week.
But the high times for Gwinnett ganja enthusiasts might be short-lived.
Authorities at state and local levels are working “to resolve this issue as quickly as possible” by way of a court-acceptable test that knows the difference between hemp and marijuana, Smith said. The GBI is “researching methods and technologies to address this issue” now, he said.
Pot is still technically illegal in Gwinnett, like all of Georgia, and police will still pursue what they believe to be felony crimes, which will be reviewed by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis.
One ounce of marijuana—28 grams, the threshold between a misdemeanor and felony—would roughly fill a soda can, enough for 60 joints on average, per various online legal and connoisseur sources.
UPDATE: August 13, 11:48 a.m. — Ditto for Cobb County.