Atlanta City Council Votes Unanimously to Decriminalize Marijuana, Heads to Mayor’s Desk

Marijuana possession
Cannabis flowers on display at a dispensary (Source: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance )

People Caught With Under an Ounce of Marijuana Would Be Subject to Fine Instead of Arrest

Atlanta, GA—(ENEWSPF)—October 3, 2017

By: Drug Policy Alliance 

Monday afternoon, after two hours of debate amongst the city council members – the Atlanta city council voted unanimously 15-0 to pass Ordinance 17-O-1152. This legislation makes the possession of marijuana under one ounce a non-arrestable offense and lowers the fine to a maximum ticket of $75.  The mayor has eight days to decide whether to sign it.

One complicating factor is that under current Georgia state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will be dependent on law enforcement discretion.  Under Georgia state law, the possession of any amount of marijuana can result in 180 days of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

“The city council sent a strong message that we need to end these wasteful and discriminatory arrests,” said Michelle Wright, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill is an important step forward, but now it’s up to the Mayor to sign it and the police to implement it correctly and consistently.”

Since May, the legislation has been held by the council’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, but during last Tuesday’s meeting, the tide turned. It was brought to light that in Atlanta, the overwhelming number of arrests for marijuana are African Americans (92%), even though studies have determined usage is at similar levels across racial demographics. This led to the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee moving the legislation forward to full council with a favorable recommendation.

Andre Dickens, the Chairman of the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, stated “I support the ordinance which will reduce the offense of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket/fine, rather than jail time. It is unfortunate, that although marijuana use is equal amongst all racial lines, more than ninety percent of all marijuana charges that require jail time are disproportionately given to African Americans. I support the valuable use of our police officers to focus on more serious crimes that have an immediate effect on our citizens and communities.”

These developments in Atlanta take place on the eve of Atlanta’s first time hosting the Drug Policy Alliance’s biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference, where more than 1,500 experts and advocates from over 80 countries will gather in Atlanta next week from October 11-14.  The Reform Conference draws attendees from all around the world who come from across the political spectrum – from those who have seen the worst of drugs and addiction, to hundreds of formerly incarcerated people, to elected officials and policymakers from all levels of government. From those who have never tried illicit drugs, but are outraged at the money and lives wasted due to the drug war, to active drug users doing political organizing in their communities. From student activists and grassroots racial justice organizers, to law enforcement, faith leaders, academics, and marijuana entrepreneurs. What unites this remarkable array of people is a passion for uprooting the drug war – and a yearning for a more just, compassionate and effective way of dealing with drugs in our lives and in our communities.

The conference program is now available. Michelle Alexander, author of the bestseller The New Jim Crow, will speak on a plenary about the war on drugs, mass incarceration and criminal justice.  On Thursday October 12, there will be a candlelight vigil Thursday night at the Museum of Civil and Human Rights to pay tribute to all those who have perished as a result of the drug war.  On Friday the 13th, DPA and AFROPUNK are hosting a town hall, “The Case for Reparations: After 50 Years of Mass Incarceration, What Does America Owe Us?

Related Material:

The Root

Marijuana-Decriminalization Ordinance Unanimously Passes in Atlanta City Council , By: Monique Judge, October 2, 2017 — http://www.theroot.com/marijuana-decriminalization-ordinance-unanimously-passe-1819088489

The Atlanta City Council has taken a giant step in the name of marijuana reform. An ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana was unanimously passed by the council Monday.

WXIA-TV reports that after it passed in the council 15-0, the ordinance—which was proposed by Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall—just needs the signature of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to become law. Reed has eight calendar days either to sign the legislation or to veto the ordinance.

The current penalty for possession of marijuana in the city is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months’ imprisonment, but under the new ordinance, possessing less than an ounce of the drug would result in no prison time and a maximum fine of $75.

Hall told V-103 anchor Maria Boynton: “Currently, we are seeing families torn apart. We’re seeing young people lose their scholarships, we’re seeing people become unemployable, all because of possession of less than an ounce. And primarily the neighborhoods, the zip codes, the people are people of color living in parts of our city that have been left behind, that have been neglected, and they are being penalized greater than anyone else.

“Ninety-two percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession of less than an ounce and who are in our jail are African American, and that is wrong. We should be ashamed of ourselves, and we have to change this law immediately,” Hall continued. “We have the power in City Hall to do it right now. We are the governing body as City Council. I’m asking for that vote, and when we take that vote, it’s going to change the city forever.”

Hall said that possession of less than an ounce would just be a ticket. He argued that it would cost the city less by not wasting millions of dollars on incarcerating people, taking them through booking and going through court time.

Hall also said that judges will have the discretion to add a steeper sentence for repeat offenders.

Council members told WSB-TV that their focus now is making sure the public is informed about the new law.

Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms said: “In fact, what I’ve said is I don’t want blood on my hands. I don’t want some college kid to think they are within their rights to possess marijuana in Atlanta, get arrested, resist arrest and, God forbid, the worst happens.”

With many states moving to decriminalize marijuana and even make the use of recreational marijuana legal, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Source: www.drugpolicy.org