A new law in Atlanta aims to get lower the number of people brought to jail for carrying less than an ounce of marijuana. Now the local community is chiming in on the issue – what’s being described as multi-layered and historic.
If this bill gets signed into law, anyone who is caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will pay a $75 fine rather than a thousand dollars and jail time up to 6 months.
Bring up the topic of marijuana in Atlanta’s historic African American communities like Bankhead and the West End and you'll find people have something to say.
“We are being targeted,” Brandon Bailey said.
It’s a subject that opens up a can of worms.
“Most of us know especially in the black community,” one resident said.
Topics like racial profiling come up and what one resident called an “us versus them” mentality in police departments – something that leads to a distrust of law enforcement.
But the Bankhead community looks at the unanimous and historic Atlanta City Council vote as a step in the right direction. The ordinance says that people with less than an ounce of pot will face a fine of up to $75 instead of prison time.
Haron Wakil has been locked up for marijuana possession before.
“I feel good about it because the people over here, a lot of these young brothers getting locked up, it’ll slow the jail rate down,” Wakil said.
Bailey pointed out the concerns he’s also hearing in the community.
“I can’t find no job,” he said quoting some of them. “I got a felony, I got this.”
He wants the youth to stay away from drugs – whether less than an ounce or more.
“You’re selling weed, you’re selling drugs and other stuff,” he said. “You’ll meet the gratification of what you want right then and there. But for the long run, what you do today affects what you do tomorrow.”
These men tapped into the issues facing their African-American neighborhoods and see how the vote has sparked debate. But they consider it a win for their community.
“It has closed an avenue for the police and law enforcement to unduly pick on us,” said one man.
Meanwhile, police day they're going to continue to focus on reducing violent crimes in the city and that the new law will better enable them to do that.
"When we do make an arrest for marijuana possession, it is usually in the context of another crime occurring or something related to quality of life," Atlanta Police Major Darin Schierbaum said.
That said, it's still illegal to have or smoke marijuana - something Shierbaum wanted to make clear.
The ordinance also focuses on the future, so the $75 fine would be assessed to those caught after the bill gets written into law.
Mayor Kasim Reed has 8 days to sign this as of Monday. And he has already indicated that he's interested in signing the legislation.
The ordinance simply changes the way people are prosecuted after being found in possession of an ounce or less of weed. And that's only within the city limits of Atlanta.