Photo Credit: VoteAtl.org

After a fifteen-month effort, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall has successfully taken the first steps to pass legislation making possession of marijuana less than an ounce a non-jailable offense. The current code levies a fine of up to $1000 and up to six months in jail. Hall’s proposed legislation eliminates jail time and imposes a maximum fine of $75.00. According to Hall, ninety-two percent (92%) of those jailed in the City of Atlanta for possession of marijuana are African-Americans, even though usage of marijuana is the same among blacks and whites.

This legislation is one in a series of justice reform policies Councilman Hall has introduced and passed, including “Ban the Box” in 2014, which allows people with criminal records to be eligible for employment with the City of Atlanta, without having to check a box on their application. Hall recently sponsored the creation of the Pre-Arrest Diversion Pilot Program in 2015, which is now being implemented in Zones 5 and 6. Hall also sponsored body cameras for APD officers, along with transparency and accountability for access to resulting video. In addition, Hall successfully initiated an effort to end broken windows policing in 2016. Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee has debated the marijuana legislation at several committee meetings and held a work session on the topic.

A question was raised about overlapping jurisdictions, like the Georgia State University Police, and whether they have to charge a suspect under state law, which could result in more jail time for young people of color. Today Chief Joseph Spillane attended the Committee meeting and dispelled that notion. “The impact on my campus is what I’m concerned about. We deal with a lot of marijuana cases and we try to run them through the City, which gives us an additional way to dispose of these cases, where they can go through a pre-trial intervention and have it dropped from their record and we can send it through the student code of conduct, which is a preference of mine.”

“Our current policy destroys lives,” said Councilman Hall. “It tears apart families, causes students to lose scholarships, and renders a generation of young people unable to get a job. We waste millions of taxpayer dollars on arresting, trying and jailing marijuana offenders. Our APD officers will no longer be bogged down pursuing minor arrests and can now focus more on serious violent crimes, which will make our neighborhoods safer.” The Full Council will vote on October 2nd. Mayor Reed has eight days to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law.

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