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?”