Barely a year after the legalization of hemp by the federal government with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, state lawmakers in Georgia are pushing to re-criminalize possession of small amounts of the plant. Under a bill approved on Tuesday by the Georgia House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, anyone possessing “green leafy” hemp or transporting hemp plants would be required to carry paperwork proving they are working for a licensed hemp business.

Under the measure, HB 847, anyone without a license caught with less than one ounce of hemp plant material would be subject to punishment of up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, the same penalty for charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession. The measure will soon face a vote from the full House before being considered by the state Senate.

Last year, the Georgia legislature legalized hemp agriculture, allowing the cultivation and processing of the plant and products made from it, including CBD. Since then, several cities and counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area have stopped making arrests for low-level marijuana offenses, citing the prohibitive cost of lab testing to distinguish hemp from marijuana.

Pete Skandalakis, the executive director for the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said that HB 847 would reverse this de facto decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

“If you treat any leafy substance as hemp, you’re decriminalizing marijuana in this state,” Skandalakis. “I don’t think that’s what the legislature wants.”

‘Criminalizing a Legal Substance’

However, Mazie Lynn Causey, a lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that if prosecutors and police want to enforce misdemeanor marijuana laws, they should have to bear the time and expense of lab testing.

“What’s happening here is the criminalizing of a legal substance,” Causey said. “What this bill does is it treats hemp as marijuana for the purposes of prosecution.”

HB 847 also brings Georgia law into compliance with federal hemp regulations approved in October and clarifies that hemp can be cultivated in greenhouses. Republican state Rep. John Corbett, the sponsor of the bill, said that its passage is necessary so growers can begin planting.

Fellow Republican Rep. Tom McCall, the chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee agreed, saying “it is crunch time in Georgia. We should have had this done several months ago. The greenhouse people are getting antsy. The farmers are getting antsy.”

Another Republican, state Rep. Scot Turner, voted against the measure. He said that passage of the law could lead to the police seizing the assets of people who possess legal hemp.

“We’re treating it as if it’s a criminal product,” Turner said. “We have the ability to do a test. We’re choosing not to. Why aren’t we just taking the steps necessary to establish the criminal behavior on a product that’s actually illegal?”

Democratic Rep. Matthew Wilson was the only other member of the committee to vote against the bill. He said that the logic behind outlawing a substance because police have difficulty testing marijuana is not sound.

“To fix that issue you’re going to create a brand-new crime for a substance that the federal government has legalized and does not classify as a controlled substance?” Wilson asked.

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