It Doesn't Take Much
A very small quantity of marijuana can bring you a marijuana charge. It has to be less than an ounce to qualify as a misdemeanor, but there is no bottom end for the charge. In other words, Georgia has no de minimis quantity. If they can test it and come up positive for marijuana, then they can charge you with it. It is not unheard of for paraphernalia to be tested, come up positive for marijuana, and the person be charged with possession. So, theoretically, the range for misdemeanor marijuana possession is from one molecule up to 28.3495 grams.
Testing Can Be Pretty Lacking
The GBI has approved testing methods for marijuana that are pretty substandard, and the courts have gone along with it. Basically, an officer who has done a very short amount of training and who may have no scientific background performs three screening tests. The first is a microscopic exam. The officer looks at it and looks for characteristics consistent with marijuana leaves. The second and third tests are two reagent tests: the Duquenois-Levine and KN reagent tests. These last two tests rely upon the subjective assessment of color by the officer. They are also known for producing false positives. If all three screening tests are positive, then the officer reports the substance as marijuana. In some cases, the substances will actually be shipped to the crime lab and subjected to GC-MS testing, which is a far superior testing method.
It Can Be Expensive
It is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Most typically, it is punished by probation and a fine. Consider, however, that a fine is subject to court costs and surcharges. Surcharges on a non-marijuana charge are often more than thirty percent of the base amount. On a marijuana charge, there is an additional fifty percent surcharge. Basically, whatever fine the court sets, you will end up paying almost double that amount. It will suspend your driver's license, unless you take advantage of some of the alternatives described later. The suspension is 180 days. There is no driving permit available during that time. You will have to complete DUI School and pay a $200 reinstatement fee to get your license back. It suspends your eligibility for federal student aid programs. A first misdemeanor offense is a minimum of one year of lack of eligibility for these programs. The suspension will likely raise your car insurance costs.
There are Plea Alternatives
You can plead nolo contendere once every five years. You will still have to complete DUI school within 120 days, but you will keep your license as long as you comply with that requirement. You will still have the probation, fines and other requirements imposed by the court. You can plead to a conditional discharge. This must be on a first drug offense. This is your best alternative on a first offense, if you can fulfill the conditions of probation. Adjudication of the case is deferred while you complete certain requirements including drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment. You keep your license if you stay in compliance with the conditions imposed by the court. If you are successful, then the case is dismissed at the end, and you do not have a conviction.
You Can Fight the Case
Depending on the facts of the case, it may be in your interest to fight the case and challenge the manner in which law enforcement discovered your alleged possession of the substance.
You Need Legal Representation
The consequences of this lesser offense are still so significant that it is in your interest to consult with a criminal defense lawyer to explore your options. It is best to meet with a lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest.