Were you caught with a few packages of edible marijuana products? Did the police search your car and turn up a small amount of meth or a bottle of Oxycontin pills that you bought on the black market?

A drug conviction seems like it should be a relatively minor crime, certainly nothing as serious as assault or murder — but a drug conviction in Georgia can come with major fines. That’s in addition to any time you may have to serve in either jail or prison.

Take, for example, the case of a 26-year-old Dahlonega woman who was sentenced last November to 25 years in prison and an $875,000 fine in a heroin “trafficking” case. She and her co-defendant had five ounces of heroin between them, seven benzodiazepine pills and a gram of marijuana. Aside from her prison term, the defendant was hit with a massive fine of $875,000.

Even the judge in her case said, “I don’t I don’t know that necessarily the legislature was thinking of someone like you when they came up with that as the appropriate punishment.” Then, he handed down the sentence and the fine anyhow because mandatory minimums are in place that limit a judge’s power to impose a more appropriate punishment.

Fines in drug cases are designed to strip drug kingpins and heavy-duty traffickers of their illegally acquired wealth — but they often end up punishing addicts and relatively impoverished people unfairly. Paying off a fine on prison wages is pretty much impossible, adding to a defendant’s ongoing distress.

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, you need to realize early that your situation is serious. It’s wise to seek experienced legal assistance for your defense.