Fulton County decriminalizes marijuana in unincorporated area

Following in the footsteps of neighbors in Atlanta and the new city of South Fulton, Fulton County commissioners voted Wednesday to decriminalize marijuana in the unincorporated part of the county.

The action only effects a small area on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, but could account for a number of arrests. Last year, before South Fulton took over police services for the new city, 30 percent of Fulton County’s marijuana arrests came in the Fulton Industrial District, Commissioner Marvin Arrington said.

The Fulton Industrial area is the last remaining unincorporated piece of Fulton County, and both Atlanta and the new city of South Fulton would like the area within their boundaries.

Fulton Industrial is about 7.5 square miles of mostly industrial space that has a workforce of more than 20,000 people and about 46 million square feet of industrial space according to Rep. Roger Bruce, who was a driving force behind South Fulton.

Arrington said the move could play a role in county leaders’ long-stated desire to reduce the population at the jail.

The proposal failed last month before being approved Wednesday in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Emma Darnell voted against the measure, while Commissioners Liz Hausmann and Lee Morris did not vote.

Under the new ordinance, people in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would not be subject to jail time and would be fined a maximum of $75. The fine could increase on subsequent offenses, and by the fifth offense, someone would be fined at least $500 and could be subject to 60 days in jail. Violators can also be ordered into drug treatment. For those under 21, it can happen after a first offense; for those over 21, it can happen after the third.

Fulton Industrial is bordered by Atlanta and South Fulton. In Atlanta, the fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is $75. In South Fulton, it's $150.

In Georgia, the cities of Clarkston and Savannah have also decriminalized marijuana. Under state law, the punishment is a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.