Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who is also one of the city’s mayoral candidates, is demanding that a vote be taken up on the issue of marijuana decriminalization next month, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Earlier this year, Hall introduced a piece of legislation that would have made small time pot possession (up to an ounce) a civil infraction punishable with a fine of $75. The proposed ordinance was designed to prevent non-violent offenders from being entered into the criminal justice.
As it stands, the current law dictates that anyone busted for this offence can serve up to six months in jail and pay fines reaching $1000.
The goal of the measure, according to Hall, is to eliminate some of the racial disparities that exist when it comes to marijuana arrests.
"In Atlanta and in Fulton County, 93 percent of the arrests for small amounts of marijuana are the arrests of African-Americans, that is the most biased rate of arrests in the country," Hall told CBS affiliated WGCL. "It's not easy to convince a majority of 8 to 10 people and ideally a majority to agree to do something."
Hall’s decriminalization bill got jammed up shortly after its introduction due to some heat from the Atlanta Police Department and various other agencies. City officials are worried that eliminating the criminal penalties associated with pot possession might send the wrong message– perhaps even that marijuana use is now legally acceptable.
But Hall believes a new policy is necessary to “help reduce the inequities that our justice system levies on people of color. It won’t solve the problem in its entirety, but it is a strong step forward. The legislation doesn’t need to be tweaked or amended, it just needs an up or down vote.”
Hall is calling for a committee vote to take place next week, with a full Council vote on October 2.
Mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, who is running against Hall, is also a supporter of the citywide decriminalization measure.