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Early Monday morning, city leaders in Atlanta voted to decriminalize marijuana. The legislation will reduce possession of marijuana in amounts less than one ounce to a $75 fine and no jail time. In the past, it was punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
The vote to decriminalize passed unanimously, 15-0. In September, Councilman Kwanza Hall stated the following,
“Ninety-two percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession of less than an ounce and who are in our jail are African American, and that is wrong. We should be ashamed of ourselves, and we have to change this law immediately”
It was also stated that families are being torn apart and lives were being ruined by the criminal penalties associated with possession. Individuals would lose scholarships or be barred from certain employment opportunities due to the criminal charge.
The Atlanta city council is planning a series of criminal justice reform policies (PDF of specific proposals available at bottom of page). Decriminalizing marijuana is just one piece of that puzzle.
The legislation, which was resurrected in September after spending months in committees because of concerns it might send the wrong message, brings Atlanta closer to other large cities across the nation that are either lessening penalties on pot or decriminalizing it altogether as Americans’ opinions on the drug evolve.
It will reduce the financial penalty for possession of one ounce or less from up to $1,000 to a maximum of $75. Jail time, currently six months for possession, would be eliminated for an ounce or less.
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City councilman Kwanza Hall introduced the measure back in March. It calls for reducing the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a $75 fine and no jail time. That’s a dramatic drop from the penalty currently in place under state law which calls for up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
“In Atlanta and in Fulton County, 92 percent of the arrests for small amounts of marijuana are the arrests of African-Americans, that is the most biased rate of arrests in the country,” councilman Hall told CBS46 News in September. “It’s not easy to convince a majority of 8 to 10 people and ideally a majority to agree to do something.”
“The available evidence indicates that the decriminalization of marijuana possession had little or no impact on rates of use. Although rates of marijuana use increased in those U.S. states [that] reduced maximum penalties for possession to a fine, the prevalence of use increased at similar or higher rates in those states [that] retained more severe penalties. There were also no discernible impacts on the health care systems. On the other hand, the so-called ‘decriminalization’ measures did result in substantial savings in the criminal justice system.”
Our conclusion is that state-level marijuana legalizations to date have been associated with, at most, modest changes in marijuana use and related outcomes. Our estimates cannot rule out small changes, and related literature finds some effects from earlier marijuana policy changes such as medicalization. But the strong claims about legalization made by both opponents and supporters are not apparent in the data. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.
Very proud of the City Council in my hometown of Atlanta for just voting to decriminalize marijuana possession for under 1 ounce. A start.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) October 2, 2017
They're really trying to decriminalize marijuana in Atlanta. So many political leaders are on the radio advocating and I'm proud.
— Alecks (@_TheLastProphet) October 2, 2017
In Atlanta, 93% of the people arrested for marijuana are African American. That don't sound bias to y'all?
— step daddy. (@atlantajayday) September 26, 2017
Marijuana possession under an ounce is now punishable by a fine instead of imprisonment in Atlanta. Big ups to the city for this move.
— Vinny (@Destinythatgivs) October 3, 2017
The reactions I’ve seen to this have been largely positive. As someone who believes that the individual should be in charge of their decisions, I am not entirely against the measure. That being said, I question whether this measure and others around the nation are taken with prudence in mind or if the communities will regret the decision down the road.
[NB: As a Georgia resident, I asked my lawyer “isn’t that against [Georgia] state law?” – he answered “Maybe.” So apparently a city could do this. But it would open a challenge. –Editor]
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