Last week the Atlanta, Georgia City Council voted 15-0 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis within the city limits. Previously, possession of under an ounce could get someone up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Now, possession of less than 28 grams comes with no jail time and a maximum fine of $75.
From 2014 to 2016, over 90% of marijuana arrests in Atlanta were of African-Americans, according to the Racial Justice Action Center. In total, black people make up about 54% of the city’s population.
The decriminalization measure was sponsored by Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who is one of several people running to be Atlanta’s next mayor; this is a major political victory with the election now less than a month away.
“Today we stand with every parent of Atlanta who is fearful of or has seen their children’s lives destroyed, or careers ruined because of a racist policy that unjustly incarcerated minorities by more than ninety percent,” Councilman Hall said in a press release.
While decriminalization doesn’t mean legal growing or sales – in other words, it’s not legalization – it is always a step in the right direction. It means less lives ruined by arrest and criminal records and less resources wasted. It allows law enforcement to worry less about a plant that they shouldn’t have been worried about in the first place.
Decriminalization also continues the “normalizing” of cannabis, something that needs to take place if it is ever to be thought of in the same way most think about alcohol now. And when it happens in a large city like Atlanta, not only does it affect more people, it also garners more press. It shows people that cannabis is not really a big deal and may even make some of them wonder why we wasted all those years arresting people for it.
It must also be noted that this didn’t happen in the western or northeastern part of the U.S.; this was right in the breadbasket of the Bible Belt. True, Atlanta is an urban area and tends to run more liberal in the political sense, but something like this in the southeast can’t be discounted.
Atlanta’s current mayor, Kasim Reed, said on Twitter that he looked “forward reviewing & signing this legislation.” Another chunk has been taken out of the wall of marijuana prohibition, and as we have seen over the last 5 years, chunks can quickly lead to whole sections of the wall coming down.
UPDATE: There was some confusion initially over whether Mayor Reed signed or vetoed the measure, but the reports of a veto turned out to be mistaken.