A hot topic for the 2017 Atlanta mayoral race, marijuana decriminalization took a quantum leap forward on Tuesday when the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee approved a bill to decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana (less than one ounce).
Introduced on March 20 by Atlanta City Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall, the bill states:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to possess one ounce or less of marijuana within the corporate limits of the city. Any person found guilty of violating this section shall be subject to a maximum fine of $75 and not subjected to confinement for any period of time.”
— Kwanza Hall (@kwanzahall) September 27, 2017
If passed by Atlanta’s full city council, the decriminalization ordinance would provide greater flexibility for Atlanta’s police, specifically allowing for discretion when confronted with cases of individual marijuana possession.
“The law would only apply in the city limits – and conflicts with a state law that calls for jail time. If it passes, it will give police a lot of leeway as to which law – state or city – would be enforced, 11 Alive Atlanta wrote.
Currently, Atlanta’s marijuana law allows individuals caught with less than one ounce of marijuana to be fined up to $1,000 and incarcerated for no more than six months.
An early supporter of decriminalization for Atlanta’s residents, Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort announced his intention to fight for decriminalization last November.
Atlanta has six candidates vying to become their next mayor, but not all agree on marijuana decriminalization. While Kwanza Hall, Sen. Vincent Fort, and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell agree that personal amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized, the other would-be mayors remained silent or uncommitted to the idea.
When asked by Atlanta Loop “if there’s no movement on it this year, what their policy as mayor would be,” some candidates were more forthcoming than others. Though former Atlanta City Council President Kathy Woodlard and Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms could not be reached for comment, candidates Mary Norwood and Ceasar Mitchell clarified their positions.
Mary Norwood, Atlanta City Councilwoman:
“I want a dialog with the police department as to the impact of changing the city’s ordinance and what it does to offenders and whether or not … the state law would then apply. What we need is an understanding from the police department as to the steps that occur now and the steps that would occur for their police officers on the street with offenders with the changes.”
Ceasar Mitchell, Atlanta City Council President:
“When police officers spend time on these offenses, jail cells end up filled with non-violent offenders, while repeat and violent offenders often go free. Atlantans deserve to have a city that encourages kids to reach their potential, not one that embraces punishment for every misstep. While usage rates are roughly the same across different races, statistics show that African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. For many Atlanta kids, it is a gateway to prison. We need to do everything we can to end a process that hurts our kids by serving as a fast track to incarceration”
Atlanta’s marijuana decriminalization ordinance would only apply to the municipal code and would dictate how the city’s police force handles personal marijuana possession cases. Applied with discretion, state and federal agencies would still have the option to make arrests and prosecute individuals based on state and federal laws.
Side note: Sen. Bernie Sanders will be joining Sen. Vincent Fort at a campaign rally on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at 3 p.m. at the St. Philip’s AME church. With less than seven weeks to go before the Nov. 7 election, Sen. Sanders has thrown his support to Sen. Vincent Fort.