Decriminalization of marijuana considered in Johns Creek

Johns Creek could be the next metro city to decriminalize marijuana. Officials in favor of the measure suggest that a person in possession of less than one ounce of cannabis face no jail time and a fine that doesn’t exceed more than $75.

The current fine for simple possession could be up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

City Council members will discuss decriminalization during a work session at 5 p.m. today at Johns Creek City Hall.

The proposed change to the law would not legalize the drug. Georgia law doesn’t allow cities or counties to legalize possession of marijuana.

Councilman Chris Coughlin proposed the decriminialization initiative in 2017. The Councilman said he didn’t pursue it then because of a likely veto by Mayor Mike Bodker. Coughlin believes the measure now has a better chance of being fully approved.

Coughlin said more lenient penalties for possession of marijuana could result in a decrease in opioid use in Johns Creek.

“Opioid abuse is high in Johns Creek,” he said. “When you don’t go to jail (for marijuana), people will substitute it as an alternative for pain relief.”

Councilwoman Erin Elwood foresees decriminalization lowering the number of interactions between residents and police officers.

“I think this is a time when we’re all looking at criminal justice and policing in terms of how can we do better,” Elwood said. The punishment for possession of marijuana is disproportionate for people of color compared to others, she added.

Other municipalities have begun to change their laws concerning small amounts of marijuana. Clarkston was the first Georgia city to pass a similar ordinance in 2016. Doraville passed a new ordinance earlier in August. Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta-Richmond County and Macon-Bibb County are among the large local governments that also have passed local decriminalization ordinances.