Atlanta City Council holds off on changing marijuana laws

UPDATE 3: The Atlanta City Council, after debating for more than 90 minutes, sent legislation that would have eliminated jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana back to committee for review.

The move came after council members expressed concern that there hasn’t been enough discussions about the ramifications of the changes, including input from police, Atlanta School officials and others. 

“It’s very important that we get this right,” said Councilman C.T. Martin. “I don’t think we need to be in such a hurry to rush it.” 

City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, a lawyer, said there were a lot of “ifs” in the legislation and that it did not take into account that pot users could still arrested for violating state and federal laws.

“I’m concerned we are sending the wrong signal,” she said. 

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UPDATE 2: Councilmembers said they worried that the legislation could send the wrong message to drug users. 

Changing the penalty to eliminate jail time would not mean marijuana is legal, the members said. Nor would it carryover outside the city limits.

“If they get arrested by somebody else (other than Atlanta Police), they go to jail,” said City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who supports the legislation.

City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd said she thinks the legislation needs to be discussed by Neighborhood Planning Units and possibly voted on in a referendum.

City Councilman Ivory Young, however, said he was not in favor of “adding six months to this process.” 

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall sponsored the legislation that could eliminate jail time for marijuana possession.

UPDATE 1: The Atlanta City Council is starting to debate the merits of legislation that would eliminate jail time for people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana.

Some Council members are worried there has not been enough discussion with law enforcement, courts, Atlanta Public Schools and others about the impact of the changes. 

Some city officials said they had planned to have those discussions, but were thwarted when their attention turned to the collapse at the end March of Interstate 85 in Buckhead. 

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who sponsored the legislation, said he saw no reason to put this off. He suggested that the legislation be enacted with a start date of Oct. 1. That would allow officials to address their concerns and come up with education programs and policies.

“I would prefer for us to move it forward,” he said.

Story is developing. 

STORY: The Atlanta City Council is scheduled to tackle Monday a proposal that would eliminate jail time for people caught using marijuana and lower the fine for possession to up to $75.

But it could also send the matter back to committee because Mayor Kasim Reed has said he is unsure he’ll sign the changes if the legislation makes it to his desk. 

Reed, earlier this month, called pot a “gateway drug” and said “I’m following the debate very closely.”

Sponsored by City Councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall, the purpose of the legislation is to address the disparity of black citizens incarcerated because of pot possession. 

Between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested for possession were African American and 85 percent were male, according to the Racial Justice Action Center.

An American Civil Liberties Union analysis of marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 found blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested nationally for possession of the drug than whites.

Currently pot possession in Atlanta carries a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time of as much as six months.

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