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Savannah Could Follow Atlanta On Marijuana Reform

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A second major Georgia city may soon remove the possibility of jail time for people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Last week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed into law a measure that advocates describe as decriminalization and which replaces time behind bars for marijuana possession with modest fines. It had previously passed the City Council by a vote of 15-0.

Now, a member of Savannah’s City Council wants the state’s fifth-largest city to join the capital in significantly lowering cannabis penalties.

Alderman Van Johnson announced on Monday that he intends to push his colleagues to pass a measure eliminating the threat of incarceration for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana, and reduce the punishment from the current $1,000 fine to just $150. And he intends to do it within the next 45 days, the Savannah Morning News reported.

“My proposal would directly address glaring demographic disparities in arrest rates for this offense, due to disproportionate minority contact,” Johnson said in announcing his effort.

He wants 20 percent of the fines collected under the proposed ordinance to go toward drug treatment funding.

But even if the Savannah City Council adopts Johnson’s proposal and it is signed by the mayor, Georgia state laws criminalizing cannabis will remain in effect and enforceable in the city, as is the case in Atlanta.

Johnson is a member of the board of directors of the National League of Cities, meaning that his advocacy on the issue could have broader implications beyond Savannah.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of 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. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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