Atlanta City Council Weighs Bill Proposing Decriminalization of Marijuana

Atlanta activists have argued that municipal marijuana laws disproportionately impact African-Americans.

Atlanta City Council’s Legal Administration Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 14, declined to vote on a proposed bill that would decriminalize marijuana in the City of Atlanta.

The committee chose not to vote on the legislation at Tuesday’s meeting but rather planned to hold a work session on Feb. 21 to discuss the hot-button issue, Atlanta Progressive News reported. The amendment, proposed by Council member Ivory Lee Young (District 3), came in response to the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Deaundre Phillips by Atlanta police last month.

Local activists and community members, angered over the deadly shooting, demanded that the committee weigh two ordinances proposed by Council member Kwanza Hall, including one that would void a multitude of municipal crimes such as cannabis possession and jaywalking. The other bill would order the immediate release of footage in police shootings, according to Atlanta Progressive News. Activists argued that such offenses disproportionately target African-American residents.

Colleen Kiernan, an aide to Councilman Hall, told Atlanta Black Star that the committee didn’t vote on either of the councilman’s amendments because Hall wanted to first hold a work session to discuss the bill regarding police transparency, then move on to debate the cannabis decriminalization legislation. Still, critics angered by Phillips’ shooting death pressed committee members to vote on the legislation right then and there.

“Why should we have to wait? How many more people have to die before you people on City Council take action?” resident Dan Steede asked the committee. “Today, not tomorrow, not one more minute, not one more life.”

Investigators who looked into the Phillips shooting said authorities were called to the Atlanta Public Safety Annex on the evening of Jan. 26 to investigate a “suspicious person in a car,” 11 Alive news reported. Police discovered Phillips asleep in his car, adding that they smelled marijuana wafting from it.

Officers said when they tried to apprehend Philips, he attempted to drive off. An officer then tried to enter the car through the passenger side door, while the young man attempted to drive away with the policeman hanging halfway out of the car. That’s when the officer shot and killed Phillips.

Activists and community members argued that a municipal law decriminalizing marijuana possession may have prevented the Atlanta man’s death by eliminating the need for police interference. Activist Marshall Rancifer, who attended the Feb. 14 meeting, presented the committee with statistics showing that in the same month last year, APD made a total of 290 marijuana arrests; eight of those arrests were of white people while the other 282 were of African-Americans.

During the meeting, Young motioned to introduce an alternative amendment that would decriminalize cannabis as a standalone statute, according to Atlanta Progressive News. However, Councilwoman Felicia Moore declined to consider the measure, arguing lack of information over how a decriminalization ordinance would operate. It also was pointed out that even if the City of Atlanta voted to decriminalize marijuana, the drug would still be illegal at the state level.

The upcoming sessions to discuss Hall’s ordinances will be his third attempt at addressing the proposed bills with the committee. Atlanta Progressive News reported that the councilman introduced his legislation some six months ago but was asked twice by the administration to re-schedule the work sessions.

Kiernen told ABS that an official date hasn’t been set to discuss Hall’s amendment regarding marijuana. The work session discussing his efforts to increase police transparency is set to take place on Thursday, March 9 from 2-4 p.m.

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