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'Decriminalizing' marijuana all about the green

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone complain about their work, I wouldn't have to work anymore.

I try not to complain. Writing one mildly amusing column a week shouldn't be that difficult, but this week's been a struggle.

The Las Vegas shootings were horrific , and Monday I heard southern rock legend  Tom Petty had died  -- twice.

The depressing stories kept coming.

A sheriff from my former south Georgia stomping grounds is accused of sexual battery for allegedly fondling teenagers during a high school drug search.

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Closer to my current home, a DeKalb County man died in his home and no one noticed for at least a year. 

I never thought I'd read the headline "train hits house," but it happened Thursday morning .

Finding good news to write about can be difficult, but this week it became my mission.

How about Atlanta "decriminalizing" marijuana?

The word decriminalizing is in quotes because it is a misleading. Getting caught with an ounce of weed or less is still illegal, but, if Mayor Kasim Reed approves the ordinance, the penalty goes from a $1,000 fine and six months jail time to $75 and no jail time.

Those who smoke marijuana may never leave the city limits.

“If you get arrested by anybody but a city cop, you’re toast,” Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean warned earlier this year.

Like Hillary's husband, I've never inhaled, but I've conducted research.

What most non-tokers don't realize is how long an ounce of pot lasts. That much weed -- about 40 "joints" the size of a cigarette -- might last a casual smoker a month. Or a long weekend if he has friends.

Most dealers don't sell an ounce. They sell 28 grams, which is just short of where major criminal penalties usually kick in.

How much does it cost? Prices vary, but $250 an ounce is a good guess. Marijuana tends to be cheaper in areas where it is legal to buy and sell it.

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said this new ordinance will allow officers to concentrate on eliminating violent crime instead of focusing on petty ones.

“We’re focused on violent crimes,” Shields said. “ ... a dime bag of weed is not going to change crime in this city.”

That violent crime thing is a bit of a smokescreen. Not jailing people lowers costs. I couldn't find out how many people are currently incarcerated in the county jail for pot possession, but a recent ACLU report says police arrest more people for marijuana than all violent crimes combined.

Arresting, housing and adjudicating all those cases is expensive, and it could be considered racist. More than 90 percent of those jailed in Atlanta on pot charges are black. It's more politically expedient and cost-effective for police to hand out speeding tickets and parking fines.

And if the city really wants to make some green, all the city councilpeeps running for mayor will figure out how to legalize and tax marijuana sales and build free snack clinics along the Atlanta Streetcar line.

That wouldn't please everybody, but it's better than the news we've all been subjected to lately.

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