Atlanta City Council members voted 15-0 to pass a proposed ordinance to decriminalize marijuana. Under current law, possession of weed within the city limits of Atlanta, Georgia is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to six months.
This new ordinance would eliminate prison for possession of less than an ounce and would reduce any potential fine to a maximum of $75.
Shortly after the vote, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted support for the initiative, which he has eight days to act on or it becomes law automatically. The mayor said he looked forward “to reviewing & signing this legislation.”
The decriminalization measure was sponsored by Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who is running for mayor this year.
“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 90 percent,” Hall said in a press release after the vote.
Hall is rightly concerned about the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, rampant throughout the country. In Hall’s own district, 92 percent of people swept up in the criminal justice system for weed arrests are African American, although only 17 percent of his constituents are black.
In an interview with a local CBS station, V-103, Hall said: “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.”
Police shouldn’t be “wasting money on penalizing the possession of less than an ounce when they could be focused on serious violent crimes,” Hall added. “You’ve seen families broken up, and we’ve seen officers spend their time on this type of stuff when they could be focused on real things that keep our citizens safe.”
Shortly after the vote, City Council President Ceasar Mitchell also expressed his support.
“Our black and poor youth get caught in the criminal justice system possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Mitchell said. “Decriminalization is key.”
The Atlanta City Council even got in on the tweeting: “To everyone who came out in support of the legislation to reduce the penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, we heard you. Motion passed unanimously 15-0.
Council members said the focus now turns to making sure people are informed as to exactly how the law functions.
“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 posses marijuana in Atlanta, get arrested, resist arrest and, God forbid, the worst happens,” said Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms.