Marijuana penalties are about to get a lot lower in Georgia’s largest city.
On Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) signed into law an ordinance that advocates say essentially decriminalizes cannabis.
Reed announced the move on Wednesday morning following a bout of confusion over erroneous reports that he had actually vetoed the proposal.
— Kasim Reed (@KasimReed) October 11, 2017
Per the new ordinance, the threat of jail time for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis will be eliminated under local code. Instead, those caught with small amounts will 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 many as six months in jail.
But the changes only apply to city policy. Even when the proposal takes effect, Georgia state marijuana criminalization will remain on the books and enforceable in the city of Atlanta.
“I am pleased to sign this ordinance, which eliminates jail time as a penalty for a conviction for possession of less than an ounce, into law,” Reed said in a press release. “People of color, young and low-income people are disproportionately jailed – with sentences up to six months – for possessing small amounts of marijuana. An average of 1,000 people are arrested each year in Atlanta for possession only. We needed to change that. I believe our public safety resources are better directed to stopping and preventing violent crime.”
The City Council unanimously approved the measure last week by a vote of 15-0.
We're still on a high from yesterday's vote to reduce penalty for possessing less than 1 ounce marijuana. The Mayor says he will sign off🙌
— Atlanta City Council (@ATLCouncil) October 3, 2017
The decriminalization measure’s sponsor, Councilman Kwanza Hall, is running for mayor this year. Reed is term-limited and cannot run for reelection.
“While this is a significant step forward for all of Atlanta, and especially parents who fear their children may be jailed for what used to be an unjust marijuana law, it was also just a common-sense reform,” Hall said in a press release after the mayor signed his legislation. “Today is a victory for grassroots organizers who fought tirelessly and created the momentum for us to deliver for the people. But while [the] signing is significant, we have more to do to address the many ways that ‘Broken Windows’ policing has unjustly and negatively impacted low income people and people of color.”
In a recent interview Hall said that police shouldn’t be “wasting money on penalizing the possession of less than an ounce when they could be focused on serious violent crimes… 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.”
There is some uncertainty about when the new ordinance’s provisions will go into effect.
While an earlier version stipulated that “this ordinance shall become effective immediately upon approval,” that language was removed during its consideration prior to passage.
Colleen Kiernan, Hall’s policy director, told Marijuana Moment in an email that Reed’s administration now has some discretion as to the ordinance’s implementation.
“It will really be up to them how they direct the Municipal Court,” she said.
Reed’s willingness to sign decriminalization into law took some observers by surprise. Earlier this year, he called marijuana a “gateway drug,” and has historically been critical of efforts to reform cannabis laws.
Even though state criminalization is still on the books, Hall argued that his measure’s passage sends a strong message to law enforcement that Atlanta officials want to reduce cannabis arrests.
We’re sending a strong directive to our police department.
Marijuana possession of less than an ounce is a non-jailable offense in ATL. pic.twitter.com/DihMViOLHY
— Kwanza Hall (@kwanzahall) October 3, 2017
Opposition Group’s Marijuana Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization
A new survey of Michigan voters, funded by an organization opposed to the state’s marijuana legalization initiative, showed large support for reform and weaning support for prohibition.
The survey of 800 Michigan residents, which was conducted from May 1 to May 6, was orchestrated by Healthy and Productive Michigan.
Before being prompted with arguments for and against the initiative—which surpassed the required signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot last month—respondents favored full cannabis legalization 48 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent remaining undecided, according to the survey.
Arguments in favor of the proposed initiative, including increased tax revenue for public programs such as education funding and infrastructure, caused opposition to the initiative to drop to 36 percent. Support remained at 48 percent.
And then, even after the polling firm Victory Phones provided arguments opposing the initiative, support for legalization grew by one percent to 49 percent. Opposition ended up at 38 percent.
“Previous polls showing majority support didn’t pass the smell test. When polling, it is always important to review how the questions are asked and what size of audience responds,” Healthy and Productive Michigan’s President Scott Greenlee said in a press release. “Our poll pointed out arguments on both sides of the issue in a consistent and unbiased manner, and the fieldwork was conducted by the highly respected Victory Phones, who have a nearly 10 year track record of accurately measuring election results in Michigan.”
But the truth is that the prohibitionist organization’s poll showed that support for the legalization measure outweighs opposition, and that’s even more true after voters hear prohibitionist’s best arguments.
The share of voters who said they planned to vote against the measure dropped seven percentage points after they were read Healthy and Productive Michigan’s reasons for wanting to defeat it. Support rose one percentage point.
The proposed Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act would permit adults 21 and older to legally possess, grow and consume small amounts of marijuana. Specifically, adults would be allowed to grow up to 12 total cannabis plants in a single residence, and possess 2.5 ounces outside their homes and store 10 ounces at home.
Healthy and Productive Michigan did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
See the full poll below:
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Marijuana Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says
The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.
“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.
The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.
Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.
And he still feels the same way.
“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”
While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.
In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.
“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”
He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”
Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.
Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions
A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.
While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)