Drone delivering a package. A drone manufactured by Flytrex carries a delivery package in Reykjavík, Iceland, on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (Photographer: Arnaldur Halldorsson/Bloomberg)

A man has been charged with trying to smuggle marijuana into a Georgia state prison using a large drone that wasn’t legally registered.

Eric Brown, 34, was caught near the prison, which wasn’t identified, on March 29 with a drone that he allegedly intended to use to deliver the drug and other contraband, according to court documents and the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, which assisted in the investigation. The charges were filed Jan. 9 in federal court and announced Feb. 5.

The drone weighed more than 55 pounds (25 kilograms). The government requires operators of drones that large to register them with the Federal Aviation Administration. Most civilian drones weigh less than five pounds and have less stringent registration requirements.

Brown, incarcerated on other charges, couldn’t be reached for comment, and no lawyer was listed for him on the federal court records.

Regulatory framework struggles

The indictment comes as the government is struggling to create a regulatory framework that would let drone hobbyists and commercial operators flourish while also ensuring the devices are safe and aren’t used by criminals and terrorists.

The FAA announced earlier this month a proposed framework for allowing drones to fly over people. It’s still working on a companion proposal requiring that the devices broadcast radio beacons identifying themselves so they can be tracked by police.

Flights arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were briefly halted on Jan. 22 after pilots on two airliners reported seeing a drone on the arrival path not far from the runway. That followed incidents in recent months that shut two London airports after drone sightings.

Georgia Bills

A bipartisan proposal that passed the state Senate on Feb 14 bans on the use of drones to deliver contraband — including cell phones, drugs and weapons — inside jails and prisons. It also bans drones from taking pictures inside these facilities without permission from the facility’s warden or superintendent.

“We know that technology sometimes outpaces the law,” said the bill’s author, Republican Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick. She said the new measure should effectively regulate issues related to contraband and photographs.

Smuggling contraband is already banned by state law but Kirkpatrick’s proposal adds specific criminal penalties for using a drone to do so. Violators would be punishable as a felony and carry a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.

The drone bill was headed to the House.

News from The Associated Press was added to this article, which first appeared in Property Casualty 360, an ALM affiliate of the Daily Report.

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