Atlanta City Council Unanimously Decriminalizes Cannabis

By Seth Singleton

Ends Racially Targeted Legislation Eight Days Before City Hosts Drug Policy Alliance Conference On Reform.

ATLANTA — Residents living in the state capital of Georgia can no longer be arrested for possessing less-than-one ounce in marijuana. In direct defiance of state law that declares any possession of cannabis to be illegal, the Atlanta City Council voted 15-0 to end the racially targeted practice in a landmark decision founded in unity.

Until the recent vote, on October 3rd, the possession of even one joint resulted in 180 days of jail time. This was in addition to a fine of up to $1,000, and a slew of compounding repercussions that impacts quality employment, housing, and family. Now, following the passage of Ordinance 17-O-1152, the maximum fine for a possession conviction is $75, without the threat of arrest.

The vote takes place a mere eight days before Atlanta hosts the biennial Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) International Drug Policy Reform Conference.  More than 1,500 experts and advocates from over 80 countries will gather in Atlanta.

“The city council sent a strong message that we need to end these wasteful and discriminatory arrests,” said Michelle Wright, policy manager at the DPA. “This bill is an important step forward, but now it’s up to the Mayor to sign it and the police to implement it correctly and consistently.”

The event features speakers and events whose contents and messages will have an added weight and resonance following the council’s recent vote. Michelle Alexander, the author of the bestseller The New Jim Crow, is scheduled to speak about the war on drugs, mass incarceration and criminal justice. A candlelight vigil is scheduled at the Museum of Civil and Human Rights to pay tribute to all those who have perished as a result of the drug war. A town hall titled, “The Case for Reparations: After 50 Years of Mass Incarceration, What Does America Owe Us?”, will be hosted by DPA and AFROPUNK.

Despite a unanimous vote, the legislation’s future did not always look so certain. The city’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee had been holding off on a vote since May. But during the two-hour council meeting, the results of a study conducted in the city brought to light a disturbing reality. It revealed that the use of cannabis was similar across racial lines, but that African-Americans living in the city comprised 92% of total arrests.

The new information spurred the PSLA committee to move the legislation, with a favorable recommendation, forward to the full council for a vote. PSLA Committee Chairman Andre Dickens spoke after the meeting.

I support the ordinance which will reduce the offense of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket/fine, rather than jail time. It is unfortunate, that although marijuana use is equal amongst all racial lines, more than ninety percent of all marijuana charges that require jail time are disproportionately given to African Americans,” he said. “I support the valuable use of our police officers to focus on more serious crimes that have an immediate effect on our citizens and communities.”

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