Georgia Criminal Defense Blog

Thoughts on the misdemeanor arrest of 70 people for "possessing marijuana"

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jan 15, 2018 | 0 Comments

The report of seventy people being arrested for "possessing" one ounce of marijuana should give all of us pause. When the so-called war on drugs gets to the point where when the police are unable to determine ownership of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana they arrest everyone. We as a society have lost control of the police.  Remember, these people are our public servants who work for us; we do not work for them.  Their behavior violated the rights of at least 69 people, and likely the 70th as well.

When we examine the facts here, the defense of equal access comes to mind. As we learned in Brown v. State 244 Ga. App. 400 (2000), merely finding contraband in a home occupied by an accused is not sufficient to support a conviction if someone else has an equal opportunity to possess and control said contraband.

The point here is that the police have an obligation to do an actual investigation rather than act like Claude Rains in Casablanca and just "round up the usual suspects."  When the police fail to do their job, it harms all of us.  Not only is it a waste of police resources, but it is also an abuse of the public.

The second thing that should give us all pause is that we are still arresting people for possessing a plant. Many states have already legalized the possession of marijuana. In other states. The maximum consequence is payment of a fine.  Some cities, like Atlanta, have told their police to focus on enforcement of laws that affect public safety, rather than making arrests for offenses that are inconsequential.  

The biggest argument against legalization is specious.  People always say what will happen if these people go out and drive a vehicle under the influence of marijuana?  The answer to this dishonest puritanical question is that they will be arrest for DUI Drugs and DUI Marijuana, just like they would be today.  There will be no difference in the outcome.  No one wants people driving under the influence of drugs in Georgia. 

Doctors prescribe medications that impair people.  We do not allow anyone to drive while being under the influence of prescription drugs either.  All Georgia drivers have a responsibility to drive safely and not to be impaired.  In a society that allows for doctors to prescribe narcotics and for people to drink responsibility after obtaining the age of 21, there is no justification for saying that the consumption of marijuana is any different.

Furthermore, if the citizens of Bartow County Georgia insist on strict enforcement of the drug laws, that is their prerogative.  However, the police do not have a right to arrest 69 innocent people to potentially arrest one person who may be guilty.  There is a clear violation of the Constitutional rights of those arrested, and this cannot be tolerated.  For those who still agree with the war on drugs, step back a moment and consider that someone with whom you love may have been rounded up, jailed, and charged.


According to the AJC, “64 of 65 of the drug arrests will be dropped.” Although this is the right thing to do, the impact of being arrested cannot be fully addressed. Being arrested is a traumatic event. Many people who have been arrested suffer from post-traumatic stress disorderly.

Additionally, Georgia no longer has traditional expungement. Georgia has record restriction. This means that a government official, judge, police officer, or prosecutor will always be able to see that these people have been arrested. A private individual or company will be restricted from seeing the arrest, but it will still be on their criminal records.  

The harm is that these arrests (although dismissed and restricted) can still be seen by future prosecutors and judges and held against someone who gets another arrest. In my experience as a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer, most prosecutors consider a person's prior arrest record against an accused person, not whether the case was successfully prosecuted. 

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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