After many months of negotiations between the Atlanta City Council and community activists, the city made a huge leap forward in cannabis reform on Oct. 2 unanimously passed ordinance 17-O-1152, which dramatically reduces the maximum punishments for low-level marijuana possession.
According to the text of the ordinance, “It shall be unlawful for any person to possess one ounce or less of marijuana within the corporate limits of the city. Any person found guilty of violating this section shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $75, and shall not be punished by imprisonment for any term.”
The new law will replace the current law where possession of an ounce or less of marijuana can earn maximum penalties of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. The new ordinance reduces the fine for possession of an ounce or less to $75.00 and will not result in any jail time for offenders. It only applies to people found with marijuana within Atlanta’s city limits.
The ordinance does not specifically use the term “decriminalize” due to concerns in the local law enforcement community. Instead, it is being called a “reclassification” bill, simply changing the punishment to a less severe sentence.
“Court costs, the jail time, ruining young people’s lives, they lose their scholarships, it breaks up families, and it wastes our tax dollars,”Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall stated. “That’s the reason for doing this.”
NORML Activists Lead the Charge
The Atlanta decrim vote is a landmark victory for cannabis activists in Georgia and other southern states. The original measure was introduced in March 2016, and has had a rough time getting through the many hurdles put in place by Atlanta officials.
Peachtree NORML, the state chapter in Georgia, formed a coalition and led the way directing support for the bill. The chapter succeeded in making over 5,000 calls to the Atlanta City Council in favor of the ordinance and mobilized volunteers all over the city to support the City Council measure.
“I’m so proud of all the work we did, of the coalition and of all of our amazing volunteers,” Peachtree NORML director Sharon Ravert tells Freedom Leaf. “Atlanta did it, now on to the entire state. We will continue the activism work that got us here and continue to work diligently to protect all of the citizens of Georgia. We’re moving onto next year’s plans, with a statewide decriminalization measure already in the works for 2018.”
Mayor Kasim Reed has not been a supporter of cannabis during his time in office, going so far as to call it a “gateway drug” in April. But he tweeted the follow statement after the the vote:
— Kasim Reed (@KasimReed) October 2, 2017
Because the vote was unanimous, the ordinance will automatically become law on Oct. 17.
Atlanta joins 40 other American cities that have decriminalized marijuana possession. In April, NORML activists in Kansas City helped to pass a cannabis decrim measure that reduced pot possession penalties to just a $25 ticket and no jail time.
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