The city of Atlanta is on the verge of eliminating the criminal penalties associated with the possession of marijuana.
Earlier this week, a city council committee voted in approval of a decriminalization ordinance that would allow local police to deal with pot offenders with a small fine rather than dragging them to jail.
The goal of the measure, which was brought to the table by Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall, is to prevent non-violent offenders from getting jammed up in the criminal justice system because they were caught holding a plant that is now legal in more than half the nation.
"Court costs, the jail time, ruining young peoples lives, they lose their scholarships, it breaks up families, and it wastes our tax dollars. That’s the reason for doing this," Hall told NBC affiliate WXIA-TV.
Last week, Hall demanded the city council take up a vote on the decriminalization issue after letting the proposal die due to some backlash at the beginning of the year from the Atlanta Police Department. He told his colleagues that “the legislation doesn’t need to be tweaked or amended, it just needs an up or down vote.”
The measure is now set to go before the full council. If all goes according to plan, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed would have eight days to either sign the bill, or let it take effect through inaction.
Although it is not yet known whether the mayor is in favor of the ordinance, he did say over the summer that he understands how it could benefit the poor and people of color.
As it stands, anyone in Atlanta caught in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana can be punished with up to a year in jail and fines reaching $1,000. Under Hall’s proposal, this offense would simply be handled with a $75 fine.
Sadly, even if the measure goes the distance, Georgia State Police would still have the freedom to lock people up for this offense. That’s because state law, which considers minor marijuana possession a misdemeanor offense, would still apply.