GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Confusion about the state's new hemp law is forcing Gwinnett County to dismiss hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana cases.
Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas obtained a memo the Gwinnett County solicitor sent to the county's judges on Wednesday saying marijuana cases won't be prosecuted in his office until lawmakers make changes to the recently enacted Hemp Farming Act.
Prosecutors say they don't have the technology to tell the difference between illegal marijuana and legal hemp.
Gwinnett County police told Thomas on Thursday afternoon that they won't take anyone to jail for small amounts of pot.
"I think ethically and morally we can't go forward," Gwinnett County Solicitor Brian Whiteside said.
Thomas watched on Thursday as Whiteside tossed out the 101st misdemeanor marijuana possession case in just two days.
Whiteside told Thomas that any case filed since the Georgia hemp law went into effect May 10 won't be prosecuted.
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"We have almost 3,000 – 4,0000 cases a year in regard to that, easily," Whiteside said.
Georgia lawmakers made hemp legal this year. Marijuana in any amount is still illegal. Police say marijuana and hemp look and smell alike. Neither trained officers nor dogs can tell the difference and so far, there is no test readily available for THC amounts.
THC is the chemical that produces a high after ingesting marijuana.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told Thomas that he agrees prosecutors can't go into court and prove seized drugs are marijuana, not legal hemp.
"Every single marijuana case is now up in the air pending further action," Porter said.
Porter said felony cases have a longer statute of limitations, so he's not tossing major drug cases -- so far.
State lawmaker Dar'shun Kendrick was a supporter of the Hemp bill. She believes prosecutors are wrong.
"The hemp bill should have nothing to do with the marijuana," Kendrick said Thursday. "I think he may have a very liberal reading of the bill."
But until a test becomes available, Gwinnett's prosecutors believe the rest of the state will soon follow their lead.
"They really aren't going to have any choice in this," Porter said.
"Let's just put it this way, it might be 1968 all over again," Whiteside said.
All the police chiefs from across Gwinnett County will meet Friday with prosecutors to discuss a uniform plan on how to handle these cases.
A spokesperson with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told Thomas each case should be handled on a case by case basis.
The state attorney general's office told Thomas it would not comment because it has not been officially asked to look into the question.
Porter said Thursday evening after Thomas' story aired, that they may have found some solutions, but it could take a little while to get in place.
The DA said they have found at least two field tests that have been court approved that they think they can begin purchasing for marijuana testing. Porter said the tests would only alert officers if THC levels are at illegal levels.
Porter told Thomas he believed this could all be over "in a matter of months," and not be a long term thing, depending on the timeline of when they are able to purchase the field tests.
Cox Media Group