UPDATE | Georgia Senator introduces law eliminating felony marijuana laws

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Jan. 25, 2016

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Smoking a little marijuana shouldn't ruin the rest of your life.

That's the idea behind State Senator Harold Jones' new bill.

"We're trying to make it so that one mistake doesn't ruin someone's life, because you know we don't necessarily have a victim as such in this case," Sen. Jones said.

As long as you're not trafficking or selling it, Senate Bill 254 says possession of marijuana should only be a misdemeanor charge, not a felony.

"There's very few successful people in life who've never made a mistake," Jones said.

As the law is now, one felony conviction can turn your world upside down:

1. A person convicted of a felony loses the right to vote pursuant to O.C.G.A. 21-2-216
2. A person convicted of a felony loses their HOPE or other college scholarship pursuant to O.C.G.A. 20-3-519.1
3. A person convicted of a felony can expelled from college pursuant to O.C.G.A. 20-1-21 and O.C.G.A. 20-1-24
4. Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed in 1996 a State can ban a recipient of TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) from receiving benefits. Georgia bars a person from receiving TANF for life if convicted of a drug related felony.
5. You also lose your right to sit on juries.
6. If convicted of a felony you can lose your right to keep your license to work such as nurses license, physicians license or Attorney license pursuant to O.C.G.A. 43-1-19

Jones says there are ways to tell the difference between a dealer and a minor user.

"You look to see how the material is bagged. That can kind of tell you whether the person is selling or just has it for possession. You look to see if they have scales. Those are things that are required by the court. Do they have scales to weigh?" Jones said. "Do they have an exorbitant amount of money? That also tells you that they basically have the marijuana for sale."

The new bill would not get rid of felony drug charges completely.

Take the major bust in Nebraska as an example. A Martinez woman and two others were arrested after officers found 39 hockey bags full or marijuana, more than $7 million dollars worth.

That would still be a felony.

"I think that it's a good thing in terms of trying to protect particularly young people from themselves," attorney Willie Saunders said.

Saunders is currently an attorney. He also used to be a Juvenile Court Judge.

He believes one major component is missing from the bill -- mandated treatment, such as drug testing.

"I would hope that the legislation will have a component for treatment mandatory drug testing because obviously what we really want is for them to stop that activity," Saunders said.

He says without the treatment component the legislation is doing a disservice.

"A lot of these people that we're talking about are young people, and if you send a trigger to them that all I'm going to get is a misdemeanor, and there's nothing else that goes with it, you're setting yourself up for trouble. Because what's going to happen is you're just going to create repeat offenders," he said.

Senator Jones is a former Solicitor General. The former prosecutor says he's not de-criminalizing marijuana. Even with a misdemeanor charge, that's still a criminal record.

You would still be arrested and could still face up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

Monday, Jan. 4, 2016

ATLANTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Senator Harold Jones II has introduced a law to eliminate felony marijuana possession laws in Georgia.

Jones (D-Augusta) pre-filed Senate Bill 254 to eliminate felony marijuana possession in Georgia. Jones said his bill would not legalize the possession or selling of narcotics and that it would eliminate the draconian penalties that accompany a felony arrest and conviction, according to a release from the Georgia Senate press office.

Currently, 10 states do not have felony possession laws on the books. The treatment of marijuana possession varies greatly state to state.
Possession of 1 ounce or more is classified as a felony in Georgia, the release states.