Chatham County DA office will not prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 4:08 PM EDT
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CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones says that her office will not prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases.

This order follows the GBI Operations Bulletin from Sept. 2019 that states the crime lab will not accept marijuana that weighs less than an ounce unless felony charges are involved.

According to DA Jones, “lawful prosecutions and convictions can only be based on evidence and proof.”

Officials say the District Attorney’s decision to move in this direction was driven by evidence based and data-driven policy.

In addition, this new policy takes effect immediately.

Back in 2018, when Van Johnson was an alderman and not yet mayor, he was pushing for Savannah to reduce the penalty for anyone caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, essentially making it a ticketable offense, instead of taking someone to jail.

The argument then was the penalty reduction would free up officers’ time, and help prevent young people from getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

Council eventually made it a city rule, and just last year, the Savannah Police Department reported they wrote about 500 tickets for marijuana possession of an ounce or less.

WTOC caught up with Mayor Van Johnson to talk about the DA’s new directive and what he thinks about it.

“I think it just makes sense, it makes sense. We have several State’s in this country that have legalized marijuana use either recreationally or for medicinal purposes. And the fact again, for under an ounce, I think is just a waste of public resources.”

Mayor Johnson says he believes the focus should be on prosecuting violent criminals, especially those involved with gun violence. He also noted the previous district attorney also opted to not prosecute marijuana possession charges less than an ounce.

District Attorney Jones did say their highest priority right now is just that, focusing on crimes that present the greatest risk to public safety.

One elected law enforcement leader, Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher, says regardless of any prosecution policy, he’s still bound to uphold state and federal laws, and will instruct his deputies to arrest anyone possessing any amount of marijuana.

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