The Atlanta City Council will take up the issue of decriminalizing marijuana possession after legislation pushed by Councilmember Kwanza Hall was passed by the city’s public safety committee on Sept. 26.
Hall has been trying for 15 months to pass the legislation, which would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana less a non-jailable offense. The current code levies a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Halls legislation requires no jail time and a a maximum of $75. Ninety-two percent of those jailed in the City of Atlanta for possession of marijuana are African Americans, even though usage of marijuana is the same among blacks and whites, Hall said.
Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee has debated the legislation at several committee meetings and held a work session on the topic. A question was raised about overlapping jursidictions, like the Georgia State University Police, and whether they have to charge a suspect under state law and that the result could actually be more jail time for young people of color. During the Sept. 26 committee meeting, GSU Police Chief Joseph Spillane dispelled that notion.
“The impact on my campus is what I’m concerned about. We deal with a lot of marijuana cases and we try to run them through the city, which gives us an additional way to dispose of these cases, where they can go through a pre-trial intervention and have it dropped from their record and we can send it through the student code of conduct, which is a preference of mine.”
Hall said the city’s current policy on marijuana possession “destroys lives.”
“It tears apart families, causes students to lose scholarships, and renders a generation of young people unable to get a job,” Hall said. “We waste millions of taxpayer dollars on arresting, trying and jailing marijuana offenders. Our APD officers will no longer be bogged down pursuing minor arrests and can now focus more on serious violent crimes, which will make our neighborhoods safer.”
The Atlanta Council will vote on Oct. 2.