Marijuana charges can still be serious in Georgia

While marijuana laws have been relaxed in many parts of the country and even parts of Georgia, it remains illegal in the state.

While marijuana is becoming more widely accepted in parts of the United States for both medical and recreational use, it is illegal recreationally in Georgia and difficult to get medically.

Still, it is natural for people charged with something such as marijuana possession to think of the charge as akin to a slap on the wrist. This would be a mistake. Even Kasim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta, said, "We need to send a clear message that marijuana is not legal in the state of Georgia," when he loosened the city's punishments for people convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. Here is a look at why a marijuana charge is still something to take seriously.

A conviction is a conviction

Perhaps most notable is the fact that a criminal conviction is a conviction. That means if someone is convicted of having less than an ounce of marijuana in Georgia, it is a misdemeanor that has the potential to follow them for life when they search for employment and places to live. Having more than one ounce is a felony, even more serious when it comes to employment and living prospects. That is because intent to sell is assumed if someone is found to have more than one ounce.

So, suppose John is arrested on a possession charge after police say they found half an ounce in his car. He thinks, "Oh well, no big deal. It is just marijuana." He fails to secure legal representation and pleads guilty. He then has a criminal conviction that is likely to give quite a few employers pause about hiring him. Not only that, he faces a loss of free college tuition as well as driver's license suspension. He probably also will have to pay fines and possibly do community service. He may also end up in jail. Make no mistake, a marijuana charge can be quite serious with lifelong repercussions.

What can be done?

Fortunately, a charge is not the same thing as a conviction. Lawyers may be able to help their clients fight the charge or agree to something such as a diversion program that means no conviction shows up on their records. Thus, they can honestly answer "yes" on job applications and applications for apartments when asked if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.

Georgia police officers and prosecutors take marijuana seriously. This can be a difficult adjustment for transplants from states such as Washington, Alaska and Colorado, but it is a fact of life for state residents and visitors. An attorney may be able to clarify the options going forward when someone has been arrested for possession.