ATLANTA — A bill to decriminalize marijuana statewide was scheduled for a Georgia Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

Backers of the bill say it makes sense to do statewide what Georgia cities like Atlanta and others have done – and that’s to make marijuana laws less punitive

Backers stress that SB 10 would not legalize marijuana, and would not turn Georgia into Colorado or California or other states that have lifted most penalties for marijuana possession.  But, it would make changes that backers say are overdue.

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"Georgia’s really far behind. Not far behind just California and Colorado. We’re far behind many Republican states that treat marijuana better than we do," said State Sen. Harold Jones (D-Augusta), the bill's sponsor.

Under state law, it’s now a felony to possess more than an ounce of marijuana. This bill would make it a misdemeanor to possess less than two ounces. And it would decriminalize a half ounce or less – making the offender subject to the equivalent of a traffic ticket of no more than $300.

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This is making some Georgia sheriffs uneasy.  "Marijuana is a dangerous drug. It is a gateway drug," said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs Association. "It is destroying the lives of children all over this country. So the sheriffs’ position is a firm position in opposition to these measures."

Georgia residents are mixed on the issue.  

"I think it should pretty much be legalized," said Horace Robinson, who describes himself as a "mostly retired" businessman from Buckhead. "As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s fine with me." He spoke to us downtown during a break in jury duty.

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Davisha Johnson of DeKalb County said the idea is gaining traction with the public.  

"People want recreational use of marijuana. Now is it a good idea? I don’t think so," Johnson said. She helps run the Southeast Cannabis Symposium Series, which advocates for hemp use and cultivation but not recreational marijuana. 

"I think it’s glorified in the entertainment industry and the music industry as, this is something you need to be a part of," Johnson said. "More education (is) needed for recreational use."

Georgia has legalized certain uses for low-THC medical marijuana.  But it has resisted cultivation for that use, and the state can still make felons of people caught possessing more than an ounce of marijuana. 

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