Athens, Georgia on Cusp of Major Decriminalization Ordinance

The ordinance would represent a victory for Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Athens
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The city of Athens, Georgia is on the brink of a significant drug reform, with the Athens-Clarke County Legislative Review Committee passing a measure that is being hailed as “Georgia’s most comprehensive marijuana decriminalization ordinance.”

The ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the committee last week, “would reduce the penalties for possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana (defined as less than 28 grams) by making such infractions a 1$ fine,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which highlighted some of its advocacy efforts in Athens-Clarkes County in a blog post on Thursday.

The group says it has been “lobbying Athens Clarke county to reduce penalties for cannabis possession” since 2017, and that it was ultimately “able to bring together community stakeholders and local officials before the legislative review committee to hatch out a plan of attack.”

Once implemented, the ordinance would make “possessing under 28 grams of any marijuana product a civil infraction,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, while also enshrining the “already common practices by the District Attorney and Athens Clarke County Police not to prosecute or arrest citizens; 19 other municipalities across Georgia have already passed similar ordinances.

The ordinance will help Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, stand apart in a state that has been slow to embrace cannabis reform.

After the vote by the committee last week, Raiden Washington, the University of Georgia Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter president said, that drug policy “that provides equitable access and harm reduction resources is a non-partisan issue.”

“The Drug War has affected all communities across identity and political lines, whether that’s due to losing loved ones to overdoses or incarceration. It’s time we stand together for our entire community’s betterment,” Washington said. “The tools of the masters have been used by those who are oppressed.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy noted that Georgia is “one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of marijuana, and one of only 13 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.”

“The criminalization of drug possession fuels the US and Georgian mass criminalization system. GA has 183 jails in 159 counties. Georgia’’s total county jail population in 2019 was 45,340. There were 420,000 people on probation in the state,” Jeremy Sharp, SSDP’s South Eastern Regional Director, wrote in the blog post on Thursday. “There were 54,113 people under the jurisdiction of the GA Dept of Corrections in 34 state and private detention centers. The GA Department of Corrections had a staff of 9,169 employees and a budget of $1,205,012,739. 1 in 20 Georgians are on probation, parole, in Jail, or under some sort of supervision. The national average is 1 and 99. Private probation is an offender-funded system. Private companies with state or local contracts are allowed to charge individuals on probation with all kinds of extra fees and surcharges that far exceed their court fines. Failure to pay these fees can represent a violation of probation and risk re-entry into incarceration. Georgia has a long history of oppressive legal mechanisms used to disenfranchise.”

The lack of access to medicinal cannabis in the state has been particularly frustrating for advocates.

Lawmakers in Georgia legalized the treatment back in 2015 by passing the Haleigh’s Hope Act, which permitted qualifying patients to receive cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC. But seven years after the bill’s passage, those patients still are unable to legally access the oil.

A bill that sought to change that failed in the Georgia state senate this spring.

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