Athens-Clarke County has joined a growing movement to lower the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Athens-Clarke County commissioners approved an ordinance Tuesday that eliminates jail time and lowers the fine for having less than an ounce of cannabis to $35. That’s the lowest fine of the 13 jurisdictions in Georgia that have decriminalized marijuana, according to amounts cited in published news account.
Commissioners discussed reducing the fine to $1, but multiple state fees, including funding for law enforcement retirement plans, require charging at least $35, the city attorney said.
An ounce of marijuana is enough to make 56 half-gram joints, online sources say. “This size may be perfect to enjoy alone throughout the day or share with a friend,” the website Kush21 says.
In the public comment phase of the meeting, residents spoke for and against the measure. One commenter said she works with youth and called marijuana a gateway drug. Others said state law, which calls for up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or a year’s worth of community service, unfairly affects the black community.
Commissioner Ovita Thornton said marijuana is a gateway drug and the city-county ordinance does not prevent Georgia State Patrol or University of Georgia police from charging individuals under state law.
Commissioner Russell Edwards, who introduced the legislation, said it was a “great first step” for Athens and a “small step” in getting Georgia to where other states are on the issue.
Commissioner Mariah Parker said “the victims of the war on drugs are owed reparations” and that the inability to lower the fine to $1 is an example of how the “prison-industrial complex needs crime to sustain itself.”
The measure passed with an 8-1 vote and a smattering of applause from the audience.