Marijuana decriminalization bill advances in Atlanta

JOHNSTOWN, NY - AUGUST 19: Cannabis plants grow in the greenhouse at Vireo Health's medical marijuana cultivation facility, August 19, 2016 in Johnstown, New York. 
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ATLANTA -- The city of Atlanta took a big step Tuesday toward decriminalizing marijuana possession.  The city council's public safety committee approved the bill.  The measure goes to the full  city council

The law would only apply in the city limits – and conflicts with a state law that calls for jail time.   If it passes, it will give police a lot of leeway as to which law – state or city – would be enforced.

Eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana possession.  It wouldn’t be legal in Atlanta, but its possession would only carry a maximum $75 fine under the proposed ordinance.

"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," said Kwanza Hall, a city councilman and candidate for mayor.  Hall introduced his bill after another mayoral candidate, former Sen. Vincent Fort, made decriminalization part of his platform.

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The blueprint for this is found in the DeKalb County city of Clarkston, which passed an ordinance last year. Police in Clarkston have the discretion to  cite marijuana violators under the city ordinance – or under the state law, which carries harsher penalties.  Clarkston’s mayor says police decide depending on the circumstances during the arrest.

"It’s not denying that some people who possess marijuana could be a public safety threat. But we’re not treating everyone with one blanket rule.," Terry said.  Officers who spot somebody smoking marijuana while driving, or committing another crime, would likely be cited under the harsher state law, Terry said.

Georgia State University police chief Joseph Spillane said his officers frequently handle marijuana possession cases on campus, and need the discretion to simply give citations to some offenders rather than arresting them.