The Atlanta City Council has taken a giant step in the name of marijuana reform. An ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana was unanimously passed by the council Monday.
WXIA-TV reports that after it passed in the council 15-0, the ordinance—which was proposed by Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall—just needs the signature of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to become law. Reed has eight calendar days either to sign the legislation or to veto the ordinance.
The current penalty for possession of marijuana in the city is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months’ imprisonment, but under the new ordinance, possessing less than an ounce of the drug would result in no prison time and a maximum fine of $75.
Hall told V-103 anchor Maria Boynton: “Currently, we are seeing families torn apart. We’re seeing young people lose their scholarships, we’re seeing people become unemployable, all because of possession of less than an ounce. And primarily the neighborhoods, the zip codes, the people are people of color living in parts of our city that have been left behind, that have been neglected, and they are being penalized greater than anyone else.
“Ninety-two percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession of less than an ounce and who are in our jail are African American, and that is wrong. We should be ashamed of ourselves, and we have to change this law immediately,” Hall continued. “We have the power in City Hall to do it right now. We are the governing body as City Council. I’m asking for that vote, and when we take that vote, it’s going to change the city forever.”
Hall said that possession of less than an ounce would just be a ticket. He argued that it would cost the city less by not wasting millions of dollars on incarcerating people, taking them through booking and going through court time.
Hall also said that judges will have the discretion to add a steeper sentence for repeat offenders.
Council members told WSB-TV that their focus now is making sure the public is informed about the new law.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms said: “In fact, what I’ve said is I don’t want blood on my hands. I don’t want some college kid to think they are within their rights to possess marijuana in Atlanta, get arrested, resist arrest and, God forbid, the worst happens.”
With many states moving to decriminalize marijuana and even make the use of recreational marijuana legal, this is definitely a step in the right direction.