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Atlanta City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization

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The Atlanta, Georgia City Council unanimously voted to approve a proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance on Monday afternoon.

Under the measure, the threat of jail time for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis would be eliminated. Instead, those caught with small amounts would be subject to a maximum fine of $75.

Currently, people who encounter police while possessing marijuana face fines of up to $1,000 and as much as six months in jail.

The decriminalization measure’s sponsor, Councilman Kwanza Hall, is running for mayor this year.

“Today we stand with every parent of Atlanta who is fearful of or has seen their children’s lives destroyed, or careers ruined because of a racist policy that unjustly incarcerated minorities by more than ninety percent,” Hall said in a press release after the vote.

The councilman is particularly concerned about stark racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. Citing statistics from his own district, he said that 92 percent of people caught up in the criminal justice system for marijuana are African American, while only 17 percent of his constituents are black.

Police shouldn’t be “wasting money on penalizing the possession of less than an ounce when they could be focused on serious violent crimes,” he said in a recent interview. “You’ve seen families broken up, and we’ve seen officers spend their time on this type of stuff when they could be focused on real things that keep our citizens safe.”

The vote to approve the proposal was 15 to 0.

Mayor Kasim Reed said on Twitter that he would sign the legislation.

Earlier this year, Reed called marijuana a “gateway drug.”

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell tweeted after the vote that decriminalization is “key” in ensuring racial justice.

“I don’t smoke weed, but I think this is one thing I had to stand up on,” Hall said in the earlier interview. “We don’t need to see people’s live go up in smoke.”

The decrim proposal was approved last week by the Council’s Public Safety Committee on a vote of three in favor and one against, with one abstention and two absences.

At the full Council meeting on Monday, approximately 50 people signed up to give public comment on the issue.

Reed has eight days to act on the legislation or it becomes law automatically.

Even when the proposal goes into effect, Georgia state marijuana criminalization will remain on the books and enforceable in the city of Atlanta.

But Hall said that the measure’s passage sends a strong message to law enforcement that Atlanta officials want to reduce cannabis arrests.

Whoever operate the Council’s official Twitter account was still riding high from the news on Tuesday morning.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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