Georgia State Bill 614: What Would This Mean for People with Prior Convictions?

Georgia historically has strict anti-marijuana laws which criminalize the possession of cannabis for non-medical reasons. The state’s medical marijuana laws are also severely limited, although recent reports confirm Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a bill to extend them. Getting caught with one ounce or less of marijuana is currently a misdemeanor, punishable up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine. Possession of more than one ounce is a felony charge that could result in up to 10 years in jail.

Some counties in Georgia offer substitute sentencing programs for offenders, in which they must complete treatment programs instead of jail time. Atlanta has been the main driving force behind less-strict marijuana laws in the state. Now, a proposed bill would legalize marijuana throughout the state of Georgia – both medical and recreational use. If the bill passes through State Senate, those with prior cannabis-related convictions are wondering what it could mean for them.


A few counties in Georgia have already taken a more progressive stance on marijuana than the state. Ordinance 17-O-1152 , for example, decriminalized marijuana in the city of Atlanta. “Decriminalization” does not mean legalization. The citywide ordinance simply addressed the punishments for possession of marijuana, giving the Municipal Court orders to only charge an individual with $75 or less in fines and not to put him/her in jail if caught in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.

Other areas, such as DeKalb County, followed Atlanta’s lead, also passing decriminalization laws for marijuana. Still, neither statewide legalization nor decriminalization has occurred in Georgia. State Senator Curt Thompson believes that the only way to solve organized crime and gangs in the state is through statewide marijuana regulations. Thompson is one of the members that support the new state marijuana law: State Bill 614.

State Bill 614 aims to amend Georgia’s constitution to permit the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Under the bill, citizens 21 years and older could legally purchase limited amounts of marijuana for recreational or personal use. The state would introduce a series of laws to regulate the industry, as other states have done before it. The bill does not yet have a lot of detail about the specifics of the law, other than to state that proceeds from the taxation of legal marijuana (an estimated $340 million) would go toward improving education and transportation infrastructures. The bill is currently in front of the State Senate.


If the bill passes, Georgia lawmakers would then have to rule on matters relating to defendants with prior marijuana-related convictions; if the state legalizes recreational marijuana, would those previously convicted still have to live with penalties and permanent criminal records? Luckily, Georgia is not the first state to have to deal with such issues involved in the legalization of cannabis.

The legalization of marijuana in California, for instance, resulted in a vote to allow the courts to reduce or hide prior convictions for marijuana crimes. People with prior convictions have the opportunity to petition the courts to reduce felonies to misdemeanors, misdemeanors to infractions, and infractions to disappear completely. It is now possible for those with past convictions in California to potentially get records for possessing small amounts of marijuana expunged.

Georgia might experience a similar shift in criminal justice should State Bill 614 come into law. It is very possible that Georgia would follow in California’s footsteps, permitting people with prior convictions to petition to seal, reduce, or expunge their records for actions that are no longer illegal according to the new law. However, nothing is set in stone unless state Legislature and voters pass the bill into law.