The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously Monday, Oct. 2, to lighten the penalties for possession of less than an ounce of weed, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The decision was met with spirited applause from the audience, as local efforts to reduce fines and eliminate jail time for small amounts of marijuana have been delayed time and time again. Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall, who has been trying to get the measure approved since early spring, said the change was necessary to address the disproportionate number of Black Americans incarcerated for pot possession.
Data from the Racial Justice Action Center in East Point showed that 92 percent of people arrested for possession between 2014 and 2016 were African-American, though Black people comprise just 53 percent of the city’s population.
“We are not legalizing marijuana,” Councilman Hall said of the proposed ordinance earlier this year. “We’re not even decriminalizing it. We’re trying to reclassify it and create a new pathway … to prevent people from going into the criminal justice system.”
Thanks to the new measure, those caught in city limits with less than an ounce of pot will receive a $75 citation rather than face criminal charges and/or jail time. Georgia’s current law on possession says an offender can face a maximum 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“We are spending billions of dollars in racially discriminatory law enforcement,” Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said at a rally last Friday ahead of Monday’s vote. “And [we’re] taking away law enforcement resources that could actually be spent to keep our communities safe.”
Young said the new legislation will help police focus on more important community issues.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has little over a week to sign or veto the measure.
Mayor Kasim Reed signed the new marijuana ordinance into law Tuesday, Oct. 10.