The Atlanta City Council failed to pass Ordinance 17-O-1152, which would have decriminalized marijuana in the city. After hearing from many Atlanta residents the ordinance was referred to the Public Safety Committee for a further review in a 10-4 vote.
This statute had the ability to make possession of marijuana under one ounce a non-arrestable offense and lower the fine to a maximum ticket of $75. Under current Georgia law, marijuana possession is illegal and the possession of any amount of marijuana can result in 180 days or more of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, and a litany of collateral consequences that can impact employment, housing, family and life opportunities.
Citing fear of moving forward without a strong implementation process between law enforcement personnel and the local administration, many council members withdrew their early support and opted to instead refer. But for many community members who waited over 6 hours, sharing examples of their lived experiences, the council members’ inability to accelerate this ordinance was unsatisfactory.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an essential first step in ending the decades-long racial disparities in Atlanta’s criminal justice system – a system in which one in 13 adults (predominantly black) are under some form of correctional supervision, compared to the national average of one in 31,” said Michelle Wright policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. Currently, black residents comprise 76 percent of those incarcerated for marijuana offenses in Georgia, compared to 21 percent of whites. “Those figures are beyond unjust,” continued Wright.
There was some dissension amongst councilmembers in regards to a direction to move this ordinance. Advocates cheered as District 8 council member Yolanda Adrean pronounced, “We are the policy makers, the board of directors. We tell the administration what the policy is and they figure out how to implement it.” Ultimately, for Atlanta residents with a deep-seated mistrust of the criminal justice system, today’s vote is yet another setback.
Atlanta’s city council had a clear chance to begin rebuilding the broken relationship between law enforcement and its residents. Unfortunately for drug policy reformers, today’s ruling body left Atlanta’s citizens frustrated, and ultimately unfulfilled.
This Saturday hundreds of the nation’s leading drug policy reform advocates will gather at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta for an intensive one-day strategy session, entitled Not One Step Back, examining the intersection of drug policy, mass incarceration and public health. The day’s program will include Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), VH-1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and national leading criminal justice, drug policy and public health reformers, among others.