Drug Crime Penalties in Georgia

Drug offenses are punished differently depending on the substance, the amount in possession, whether the defendant possessed the drug for personal use or for resale/distribution, and other elements of the crime. When you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Tennessee or Georgia, you need a criminal defense attorney who understands the complexities of the state drug laws. You need Best & Brock!

The best way to defend against criminal charges is to fully understand the elements of the crime and the potential legal repercussions. Let’s learn about the general rules around drug possession in Georgia, so that you can see how Best & Brock will fight for you in your case!Drug Crime Penalties in Georgia

Drug Schedules in Georgia

In Georgia, the State Board of Pharmacy is responsible for scheduling drugs under O.C.G.A. §16-13-22. Factors that influence the scheduling of a drug include its potential for abuse and addiction, any medical evidence pertaining to its pharmacological use, and the risk it may pose to public health. Georgia splits controlled substances into five schedules, with Schedule I substances being those with the highest potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, and Schedule V substances having the lowest potential for abuse and a currently accepted medical use in the U.S.. Schedule I drugs include opium derivatives (such as heroin), almost all hallucinogenic substances (such as peyote and amphetamines), and — perhaps surprisingly – THC. In contrast, Georgia places opiates (such as hydrocodone) under Schedule II due to the current medical use of these potent painkillers.

The scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug may seem controversial, in the face of research describing THC’s potential as a medicine. Marijuana is still defined as one of the most dangerous drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and Georgia’s law on drug scheduling commands that the Board of Pharmacy consider federal scheduling of drugs when determining drug schedules.

Under Georgia law, THC possession can be punished as a felony. The exception to this rule is that possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, in its plant form, is only a misdemeanor. This protects people caught with an amount of marijuana consistent only with personal use from being charged with a felony that could deprive them of certain civil rights. Furthermore, Georgia balances the public’s conflicting views on marijuana by punishing possession and trafficking of this drug separate from other controlled substances in Schedule .With that being said, let’s look at some other drug crimes punished as misdemeanors in Georgia.

Misdemeanor Drug Crimes in Georgia

Misdemeanors are crimes that aren’t considered to be as serious or harmful as felony crimes. That doesn’t mean misdemeanor drug charges shouldn’t be taken seriously, though. A misdemeanor drug charge can still taint someone’s criminal record for future job and education applications, result in jail time or burdensome court fines, and incur other penalties. You absolutely must hire a criminal defense attorney to help you combat any drug charges, even those that seem minor.

Misdemeanor drug crimes in Georgia include:

  • Using, or possessing with intent to use, a drug-related object
  • Knowinglyselling, delivering, distributing, displaying for sale, or providing a minor with any drug related object
  • Falsely representing oneself as an adult with the intent to purchase a drug related object
  • Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana
  • Abandoning any dangerous drug, controlled substance, or poison in a public place

What is a drug related object?

Drug related objects, sometimes referred to as drug paraphernalia, are items used in the commission of drug crimes. This includes, under O.C.G.A. §16-13-1, any machine, instrument, tool, equipment, contrivance, or device which an average person would reasonably conclude is intended to be used to introduce a drug into the human body, enhance the effect of a drug on the human body, conceal a drug, or test the purity of a drug, against the state’s laws. Possessing or selling drug related objects is a misdemeanor in Georgia.

When does drug possession become a felony in Georgia?

Most drug crimes are felonies in Georgia. This reflects the state’s serious stance on preventing and punishing drug crimes. As the amount an individual possesses of a substance grows and their involvement in the manufacturing and distribution of the substance escalates, the punishments they face become more severe. For certain drug convictions in Georgia, a defendant can even be sentenced to life in prison.

The state of Georgia does not classify felonies, but instead prescribes the punishments for a given crime in the statute pertaining to that crime. We can categorize felony drug crimes in Georgia by the sentence range applied to that conviction.

Please note that the following is not an exhaustive list.

1-3 Years Imprisonment

  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control less than 1 gram of any Schedule I or II substance (except marijuana, which is punished as a misdemeanor)
  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control less than 2 grams of a non-narcotic substance in Schedule II
  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control a Schedule III, IV, or V substance in any amount (except flunitrazepam, which is punished according to amount)

1-8 Years Imprisonment

  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control between 1 and 4 grams of any Schedule I or II substance (except certain substances with mandatory minimum sentences)
  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control between 2 and 4 grams of a non-narcotic substance in Schedule II

1-10 Years Imprisonment

  • Manufacturing,delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute any Schedule III, IV, or V controlled substance
  • Manufacturing,delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute any counterfeit controlled substance
  • Manufacturing,delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana

1-15 Years Imprisonment

  • Purchasing, possessing, or having under one’s control between 4 and 28 grams of any ScheduleI or II substance(except certain substances with mandatory minimum sentences)
  • Purchasing,possessing, or having under one’s control between 4 and 28 grams of a non-narcotic substance in Schedule II
  • Possessing any substance with the intent to manufacture a Schedule I or II substance

5-30 Years Imprisonment

  • Manufacturing,delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute any Schedule I or II controlled substance
  • Manufacturing,delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute any amount of flunitrazepam

Punishments may be enhanced if the crime was committed in the vicinity of a school, public park, housing project, or other drug-free zone. Furthermore, convictions for certain drug crimes are accompanied by what if referred to as a mandatory minimum sentence.

What is mandatory minimum sentencing?

Georgia applies mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking certain unlawful drugs, under O.C.G.A. §16-13-31. Mandatory minimums were adopted around the country during the war on drugs to serve as a strict deterrent against the commission of drug crimes, and have been a subject of nationwide controversy since. Mandatory minimum sentences in Georgia are applied based on the type and quantity of the drug, such as a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for possession of 400 grams or more of methamphetamine.

To better understand the mandatory minimum sentencing law in Georgia, let’s look at the sentencing laws for possession of one common drug: marijuana

  • Lessthan 1 gram: a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison More than 1 gram: anywhere between 1 and 10 years imprisonment
  • Between 10 pounds and 2,000 pounds: mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years Between2,000 pounds and 10,000 pounds: mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years More than 10,000 pounds: mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years

Note: Manufacturing , delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering, selling, or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana is a felony punishable by 5 to 30 years imprisonment.

There are some ways to avoid being sentenced to a mandatory minimum.

For example, prosecutors may move the court to avoid sentencing a defendant to the mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant provides substantial information about accomplices, accessories, co-conspirators, or principals to the crime. Furthermore, a judge is able to depart from the mandatory minimum sentence if it’s established that the defendant was not a leader in the crime, did not possess a deadly weapon during the crime, did not kill or seriously injure someone in the commission of the crime, and has no felony criminal record. However, this particular avoidance of the mandatory minimum law is only permitted when the mandatory minimum sentence will not serve “the interests of justice” (O.C.G.A. §16-13-31).When facing a harsh mandatory minimum sentence, you need the BEST criminal defense attorney to handle your case.

Will I go to jail if I’m charged with drug possession in Georgia?

As we discussed above, there are some strict penalties for drug possession in Georgia.

Even if a conviction is not tethered to a mandatory minimum, defendants can spend years in jail after being convicted of a drug crime in the peach state. Best & Brock will pursue dismissal or reduction of your charges whenever possible. However, the circumstances do not always permit for a case to be dismissed. In this situation, there are a couple of alternative programs your attorney can request the court apply to your case.

Georgia law has a special provision under O.C.G.A. §16-13-2, conditional discharge for possession as a first offense, that allows those convicted of drug possession for the first time to have further proceedings against them deferred. Under this program, the defendant will be placed on probation without a judgment of guilt being entered in their case. During this probation, the court can establish certain requirements, such as adherence to a drug rehabilitation program.

Upon successful completion of the probationary period and its requirements, the court will dismiss the defendant’s charges. However, if the defendant violates a term or condition of their probation, the court will enter a judgment of guilt in the case and proceed accordingly. This is a great opportunity for those who don’t have previous drug charges to get a second chance, without having charges permanently stuck on their criminal record or having to go to jail.

There is another way where a defendant’s drug charges can be dropped in Georgia. The state applies a medical amnesty law that states that any person who seeks medical assistance for themself or another person experiencing a drug overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence of said crime was obtained solely from seeking medical assistance (O.C.G.A. § 16-13-5). So, don’t hesitate to call 911 if you or someone you know may be experiencing a drug overdose. It’s always important to prioritize the safety of yourself and others, and this Georgia law protects against criminal prosecution for drug possession at the time of the overdose.

The BEST Criminal Defense Team is on Your Side!

Best & Brock has defended many drug possession cases in Georgia. Our criminal defense attorneys stay up to date on Georgia’s latest drug laws, always pursuing the best resolution to your case. To discuss your case and get a quote from one of our attorneys, call (423) 829-1055 or fill out our online contact form to set up your FREE consultation!

(If you’ve been or may be charged in Tennessee, be sure to check out our blog on drug crime penalties in Tennessee!)