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Atlanta City Council lessens pot possession law in 15-0 vote

The Atlanta City Council on Monday unanimously approved legislation that will lower the fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, illiciting rousing applause by a packed audience that has been pushing for the vote for months.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who also is running to succeed Kasim Reed as Atlanta next mayor, has been trying to lessen penalties around possession of small amounts of marijuana since spring. His legislation is also designed to eliminate jail time for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Hall said the legislation is necessary to address the disparity in incarceration of African Americans for marijuana possession. While white and black Americans use pot at about the same rate, African Americans are arrested and charged in larger percentages. 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 in East Point.

At a rally held last Friday at the Atlanta Detention Center to support the measure, Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and daughter of civil rights icon Andrew Young, said passage of the legislation would allow police to focus on other issues.

“We’re spending billions of dollars in racially discriminatory law enforcement,” she said, “(and) taking away law enforcement resources that could actually be spent to keep our communities safe.”

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The current proposal would mean a $75 fine for people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana.

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