You might not think there’s a reason to know the distinction between the two leafy green plants, but a new Georgia hemp law just made it a little more important in the state.
Early in May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, which legalized hemp production in the state to help farmers get into this industry and promote economic development.
However, since hemp and marijuana are so similar in look and smell, a growing number of prosecutors across the state are putting a pause on marijuana charges, including in Athens-Clarke County.
Marijuana is still not legal in the state, but law enforcement cannot accurately tell the difference between the substances right now.
ACC and the University of Georgia police will not arrest people for suspected marijuana possession, and metro-Atlanta counties of Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb have made similar decisions.
Instead, ACCPD will still confiscate the suspected marijuana, write a police report, then issue an arrest warrant once the department receives updated drug testing equipment from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
But, what really is the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Marijuana and hemp come from the Cannabis plant but are different variations. Marijuana contains higher amounts of psychoactive THC and can be used for recreational or medicinal purposes, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Hemp, on the other hand, contains 0.3% or less THC, meaning it doesn’t cause the same psychoactive effects. Hemp can be used in health foods, cosmetics and textiles.
Both hemp and marijuana can be used to create CBD extracts, but hemp has a higher concentration of the compound. CBD does not create the same high as THC and can be used for chronic pain and anxiety relief, according to Harvard Medical School.
Both hemp and marijuana have extreme physical similarities.
It’s a confusing time for cannabis-users in the United States.
It seems like every state has different regulations on the plant, and Georgia now has stark distinctions between marijuana and hemp.
The 2018 Farm Act made hemp production and distribution legal on a federal level and left up to the states for regulation.
The Georgia Hemp Farming Act passed the next year to to put the state “to the forefront of the hemp industry.” Commercial cultivation, handling and sale is now legal in the state.
The law allows universities to research hemp growth and design products containing the substance.
As a consumer, seeing CBD products in stores is an effect of the law.
Kemp also legalized medical marijuana in the state during this same legislative session with Georgia’s Hope Act. Patients approved by a physician can have certain amounts of low-THC oil, and licenses producers can grow and manufacture the oil. CBD is the key ingredient in medical marijuana.
This law amended a 2015 regulation that allowed Georgia patients to possess low-THC oil but did not give them a legal way to obtain it.
To make matters more confusing, the ACC government has talked about decriminalizing the drug in the county, which has already been done in Atlanta and other municipalities.
So… can I smoke marijuana or not?
Not legally. Just because regulations on marijuana are a little fuzzy, the drug is still illegal in Georgia. When ACCPD is able to test for THC, the department will issue a citation or warrant if it is marijuana.
Whether it is hemp or marijuana, police will still confiscate the substance to test at a later date.
“It is important to remember that possession of personal amounts of marijuana is still illegal in Athens-Clarke County and Georgia,” ACCPD spokesperson Geoffrey Gilland said.
The GBI expects to have testing equipment with the ability to test THC potency in early September.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported there’s also still confusion over the legality of CBD, though registered patients can use low-THC oil for approved medical purposes and the compound is usually made with (now legal) hemp.
You may not be arrested right away, but ACC police still plan to prosecute on marijuana possession once the technology is updated.
We’ll be continuing coverage of local marijuana regulations as the state grapples with this industry.
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