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This Atlanta Lawmaker Wants to Decriminalize Marijuana

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Marijuana would be essentially decriminalized in Atlanta, Georgia under a proposed ordinance going before the City Council on Monday.

Councilman Kwanza Hall, a Democrat who also happens to be running for mayor, filed the proposal to make possessing less than an ounce of cannabis a non-jailable offense.

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 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.”

Current Atlanta city code means that people who encounter police while possessing cannabis face fines of up to $1,000 and as much as six months in jail. Hall’s proposal eliminates the threat of incarceration and imposes a maximum fine of $75 for those caught with less than an ounce.

The councilman is particularly concerned about stark racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

In the interview, he cited statistics from his own district indicating 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.

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

The proposal was approved by the Council’s Public Safety Committee last week.

If the full Council approves the measure on Monday, Hall said it would be “watershed moment in our city” and would make “a bit of history that really sets the dominoes in the right direction.”

Mayor Kasim Reed (D) would then have eight days to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law automatically.

Hall is hopeful that action on the city level will spur Georgia lawmakers to look more seriously at addressing the state’s marijuana laws. “As goes Atlanta, so goes the state,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta City Council.

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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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