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Atlanta City Council votes unanimously to decriminalize marijuana

This story has been updated.

The Atlanta City Council has voted unanimously to reduce the penalties for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a small fine.

A screen shot of the vote taken from the live stream of the Atlanta City Council meeting.

City Councilmember Kwanza Hall, a mayoral candidate, has been pushing to reduce penalties. Currently anyone possessing less than an ounce of marijuana faces a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The City Council voted to reduce those penalties to a maximum fine of $75 and no jail time.

After the vote, the City Council issued the following press release:

Kwanza Hall Legislation to Reclassify Marijuana in Atlanta Passes City Council

Thanks City’s Civil Rights, Reform and Social Justice Leaders for Helping Pass Historic Bill

You destroy the black male, and you destroy the black family unit.

ATLANTA, GA, October 2, 2017 – Today, Kwanza Hall passed legislation (17-O-1152) he introduced March 20 in Atlanta City Council that will dramatically reduce the penalty for marijuana possession and make it a non-arrestable offense. The vote passed unanimously. Hall thanked the city’s civil rights, reform and social justice leaders for helping propel the legislation in a surge of momentum in the final week that sealed passage of the historic legislation.

In praising the leadership of his fellow Council members, Hall also thanked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for supporting the opportunity for this reform to become a reality.

“Today we stand with every parent of Atlanta who is fearful of or has seen their children’s lives destroyed, or careers ruined because of a racist policy that unjustly incarcerated minorities by more than ninety percent,” stated Hall. “Reforming the racist marijuana laws on the book in Atlanta has been just one in a number of reforms that I have fought for.”

“And one of the leaders who recognized the unfairness and harshness of the law was Dr. George Napper, who was our city’s first African American Chief of Police, and I’d like to thank him for his support,” said Hall.

This legislation was one in a series of justice reform policies Councilman Hall has introduced, including “Ban the Box” which passed in 2014, the creation of the Pre-Arrest Diversion Pilot Program in 2015, a law enforcement transparency and accountability measure and legislation to end broken windows policing in 2016.

One of the most powerful speakers during the vote was Charnette Trimble of Council District 4. “You destroy the black male, and you destroy the black family unit.”

The ordinance changes the penalty in the Atlanta Municipal code for possession of marijuana less than an ounce from the “general penalty” –which is a fine of up to $1000 and up to six months in jail–to a maximum fine of $75 and no jail time.

The legislation had been held since May. A key fact presented during the debate is that in Atlanta, the overwhelming number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses are African Americans (92%), even though studies have determined usage is at similar levels across racial demographics.

The Atlanta City Council has voted unanimously to reduce the penalties for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a small fine.

Another metro Atlanta city decriminalizes marijuana possession

FILE – This Aug. 15, 2019 file photo shows a marijuana plant in an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. A survey released on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019 says U.S. college students are using marijuana at the highest rates in 35 years. Marijuana use continues to be higher in college-age adults than any other age group. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The city of Chamblee is the 11th local government in Georgia to decriminalize the possession of marijuana.

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night eliminating the possibility of jail time and severely reducing the fine for possessing one ounce or less of weed. An adult caught with marijuana by a Chamblee police officer will be cited and fined $75 for their first offense, according to the ordinance. That charge can be paid online and a court date isn’t required.

The DeKalb County city previously defaulted to state law for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, which is classified as a misdemeanor. Punishment under state law could be up to one year of jail time or a $1,000 fine. An ounce of marijuana can make up to about 40 joints, according to online resources.

“For me, this isn’t about whether smoking marijuana is right or wrong, it’s about preventing people from entering the criminal justice system and having their lives ruined over a simple possession charge,” said Brian Mock, the Chamblee councilman who proposed the change in city code.

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According to ReformGeorgia, a statewide advocacy group that tracks criminal justice reform issues, 10 other cities or counties have passed similar ordinances, including some large municipalities like Atlanta, Savannah and Macon-Bibb County. Clarkston was the first city in the state to pass a decriminalization law in 2016.

“This is indicative of the broader change of attitude throughout the state that we do not need to be locking up individuals because of minor drug violations, especially for marijuana, and that the state needs to take comprehensive measures to protect all Georgians from needless entry into Georgia’s already crowded criminal justice system,” Maxwell Ruppersburg, the group’s executive director, said in a statement about Chamblee’s ordinance.

Studies have shown that black and Latino people are more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, though usage is about the same across racial groups, experts say.

Mock said the change in the law will also save the city time and money.

“It takes a lot of manpower to arrest, transport, process and detain a prisoner, not to mention the court process to follow,” he said.

Municipal rules can’t impact every case involving weed. If someone is charged with marijuana possession on top of a more serious criminal offense, the case has to go to state court and the defendant would be subject to the harsher penalties.

This article was written by J.D. Capelouto, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

According to ReformGeorgia, these are the 11 cities and counties in Georgia that have decriminalized the possession of marijuana:

The city of Chamblee is the 11th local government in Georgia to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night eliminating the possibility of jail time and severely reducing the fine for possessing one ounce or less of weed. ]]>