Pot legalization in Georgia? Don't hold your breath

"We believe licensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana, and patients have a right to obtain marijuana legally, under medical supervision, from a regulated source."

The above quote, taken from a 1982 letter to the editor published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and written by then-freshman Congressman Newt Gingrich, is the closest Georgia has ever gotten to decriminalizing the doobie.

The fact that NORML, the nonprofit lobbying organization working to legalize marijuana, hadn't been active in Georgia for several years (before the state chapter was reopened last year) should tell you something about the futility of the cause.

"Right now, with the Republicans in charge, the outlook isn't good for legalization," says Gwinnett County defense attorney David Clark, who serves as executive director of Georgia NORML. "But maybe we could see an effort to allow medical marijuana."

Of course, that could still put Georgia behind Alabama. Last week, an Alabama House committee passed a bill that would legalize possession of small amounts of weed for medical purposes.

Still, as far as weed-unfriendly places go, the Peach State is around the middle of the pack, Clark says – worse than some, better than others. And metro Atlanta is actually fairly lenient when it comes to its drug courts. Davis says a nolo contendre plea on first-time possession of less than an ounce typically results in a slap on the wrist, with the accused toker avoiding a drug treatment program, keeping his driver's license and escaping with a clean record after a brief probation.

On the down side, there's no minimum quantity you need to be carrying to get busted; under Georgia law, even a bit of shake or some pipe residue is illegal.

And once you head south an hour, you better be clean.

"The penalties vary widely depending on where you are in Georgia," Davis says. "If you get caught with more than an ounce in South Georgia, you're probably looking at jail time and a heavy fine because many counties treat drug busts as a way to generate revenue."

Last year, he says, Georgia sent about 16,000 people to jail for possessing or selling pot. Not all of those cases were college kids caught with a roach. After all, Atlanta is one of the country's major distribution hubs, with countless drug mules driving our interstates.

While only about a third of his clients charged with marijuana possession are female, Davis doesn't believe that means girls smoke less than guys – or even that they get caught less.

"Unfortunately, it's common for cops to try to intimidate girls into telling who sold them the pot," he says. "And it often works, so fewer girls end up getting arrested. But marijuana is enjoyed equally by both sexes."

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