While cannabis remains illegal at a state level in Georgia, the city of Atlanta took a brave step forward on Monday when it unanimously passed a bill to decriminalize possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use within city limits. Many cities across the country, such as Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Nashville, have all passed similar laws that would decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cannabis, allowing those caught to simply be given a civil fine equivalent to a parking citation as opposed to an enormous fine, jail time and criminal charge that could negatively affect a person’s entire family, housing, education and employment.
Disturbing Racial Profiling Trends
City Council Member Kwanza Hall, who is also running for mayor in Atlanta, is responsible for pushing the legislation. He pointed out alarming statistics from the Racial Justice Action Center in East Point, illustrating a major law enforcement injustice. While the consumption of cannabis is the same across races, both black and white, there is a disproportionate amount of arrests made to African American males. While the African American population make up a little bit over half of Atlanta’s population, statistics show that between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested for cannabis possession were black and 85 percent of them were male. This kind of disproportionate law enforcement is what led to the legalization of cannabis across many of the other cities across the country who also voted to decriminalize the plant.
The Reduction in Penalties
For those arrested for cannabis possession in Atlanta in the past, a $1000 fine was handed out along with a 6 month jail sentence. This meant loss of income and maybe even employment and the inability to support families financially and emotionally, complete studies or maintain housing. The repercussions of this are too many to count. Now for those found with under an ounce of cannabis, there will simply be a $75 civil fine given.
Progressive Views on Cannabis
8 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use now. This includes Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, making up approximately 20 percent of the country’s population. 29 states have legalized the plant for medicinal use. On top of this, many major cities have decriminalized the plant. Studies have found it to be both safer and healthier than alcohol and cigarettes and in many states, this is how it is regulated. According to the most recent polls, 60 percent of the U.S. population is in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis across the country. For the consumption of a plant that many are using as medicine, it seems unfavorably harsh to enforce jail time and its consequences; especially in such a racially disproportionate manner.
It would seem that the City Council members and Mayor Kasim Reed agree with this idea as the law was voted in 15-0. Now comes the task of implementing it and educating Atlanta residents about its existence and how this updated law works so that residents are clear about their rights.