Fulton County commissioners urge Georgia to decriminalize marijuana

By David Pendered

Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners has not only decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in a small portion of the county, the board has called on the State of Georgia to stop jailing folks for holding less than an ounce of marijuana.

Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners has called on the State of Georgia and local governments to drecriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Credit: Flickr

The call for state action appears to have been overlooked amid the broader conversation over the board’s decision to reduce the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

But there it is, toward the bottom of a five-page piece of legislation:

  • “BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that the Board of Commissioners recommends that the State of Georgia and municipalities within Fulton County review their laws, ordinances, and regulations and consider eliminating imprisonment for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.”

The paper was sponsored by commission Chairman Robb Pitts, and commissioners Marvin Arrington, Jr. and Natalie Hall.

In a statement, Pitts specifically called on other governments to follow suit with the board’s decision:

  • “We see this ordinance as an opportunity to encourage other municipalities to support similar legislation regarding penalties for possession. The goal is to have common sense penalties for these crimes.”

Arrington tailored his comments toward the children:

  • “A singular, minor mistake should not forever tarnish someone’s future. This ordinance is a small step to making sure that is reflected in the law.”

Of particular note was Hall’s statement, which harkened to similar thoughts expresses last year by her spouse, Kwanza Hall, who was serving on the Atlanta City Council:

  • “This will allow law enforcement to use their time to focus on more serious crimes that keep our citizens safe. The City of Atlanta and other jurisdictions have taken similar steps, and we believe others should follow this example too.”
Robb Pitts, candidate for Fulton County Commission Chair. Credit: Courtesy Robb Pitts

Robb Pitts

Kwanza Hall introduced a paper to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in the city in 2016. The council considered the measure for 15 months, finally passing it in October 2017 – a month before the mayoral election in which Kwanza Hall was trying to make the expected run-off. His bid fell short.

Kwanza Hall sounded a tone similar to Natalie Hall in a statement issued after the Atlanta City Council voted for his proposal:

  • “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.”

 

Fulton County’s legislation affects just a sliver of the county. That’s because residents have voted to incorporate cities that cover all of the county except a section along Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

The road has long served as more than an industrial corridors. It has historically served as a gathering spot for folks are involved in drug sales and use, and prostitution. The county has an ongoing effort to police the area and remove these elements.

The new penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana cover a range of offenses:

  • First offense – $75 civil fine, no mandatory court appearance;
  • Second offense – $150 civil fine, no mandatory court appearance;
  • Third offense – $300 civil fine, mandatory court appearance, possible order into drug treatment;
  • Fourth offense – $450 civil fine, mandatory court appearance, possible order into drug treatment;
  • All subsequent offenses – mandatory minimum of $500, mandatory court appearance, possible order into drug treatment; and may include imprisonment for up to 60 days.
  • Violators under 21 years of age must appear in court and may be ordered to drug treatment.

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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