As it stands right now, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a crime in Georgia, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of less than an ounce is a misdemeanor, but possession of over an ounce is a felony, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. There has been a push recently to decriminalize possession of an ounce of marijuana in Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city. Atlanta is one of many cities that are exploring the idea, and rightfully so.
The current proposal would lower the penalty for personal marijuana possession to just a fine of $75 – no jail time. It would not change Georgia law, but would change the way marijuana arrests are handled in Atlanta city limits. Such a move would make perfect sense, given the fact that marijuana has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol, and that the cost of a marijuana arrest (initial arrest, court, correctional facility, etc.) has been estimated to be as high as $10,400. The cost of handing out a ticket is minimal. Unfortunately, those reasons are not enough to sway some members of Atlanta’s City Council, including the Mayor Kasim Reed. At least not until more discussions are held. Per AJC.com:
Reed, who said he does not believe in legalizing marijuana, said he’s weighing his options.
“I’m following the debate very closely,” he said.
While Reed said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, he also said he thinks the punishment “disproportionately affects brown people.”
Hopefully this is just a matter of Mayor Reed and other skeptics in Atlanta being educated more on the subject and getting them on the right side of history. Even the DEA has removed ‘marijuana is a gateway drug’ propaganda from their website. A simple Google search of ‘marijuana is not a gateway drug’ brings up a mountain of evidence that proves that claim is unfounded. Even former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed out that if anything, opioids are the true gateway drug, not marijuana.
If marijuana is a gateway to anything in Atlanta, it’s a gateway to jail. Between 2014 and 2016, 92% of people arrested for marijuana possession in Atlanta were African American. The mayor said that he wants to hear more from cops, judges, and health officials. Cops should be in favor of going after real criminals. Judges should be in favor of clearing out their court dockets to make room for holding hearings on real issues. Health officials should be pointing out that cannabis has the ability to treat all types of ailments, proven by numerous studies, and has been proven to help reduce opioid consumption. If those groups based their opinions on facts, science, and compassion, they will support decriminalization (and other cannabis reforms for that matter). If not, I can virtually guarantee that their opposition will be based on outdated talking points that have long since been debunked and/or ‘let us research this more’ delay tactics.
If you live in Atlanta, you should be contacting your City Council members and Mayor’s office. Point out the fact that Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana possession in 2014, and has since saved over 9 million dollars. That’s nine million dollars that can go back to schools, parks, cops, fixing sidewalks, and a number of other things that I’m sure the City of Atlanta could use. Just as the sky did not fall in Philadelphia post decriminalization, so too will the sky remain intact over Atlanta when they hopefully do the same. The Atlanta City Council is set to discuss decriminalization at its April 17th meeting. I urge everyone that lives in Atlanta to get as vocal (yet polite!) as possible between now and then!