Five months after the city of Atlanta reduced the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, the 10-month-old city of South Fulton taking similar action. In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the city council agreed to lighten the punishment for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a maximum of a $150 fine with no jail time—making the punishment for pot possession more akin to a traffic citation. Half of the fine will go to alcohol and drug rehabilitation and prevention programs, according to Mayor Pro Tem Mark Baker, who sponsored the bill.
The law isn’t official just yet. South Fulton’s mayor, Bill Edwards, still has 10 days from March 20 to sign or veto the bill. According to Baker, the mayor is in favor of signing it, although Edwards wants to increase the fine to more than $150.
To be clear: this law isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Possessing any amount of weed is still illegal. In fact, this isn’t “decriminalizing” marijuana because possessing less than an ounce can still land you behind bars. When the city of Atlanta passed its law, we outlined the different scenarios of what could happen under the legislation, all of which apply to the South Fulton ordinance. A quick summary:
- Regardless of South Fulton’s new law, Georgia law still supersedes the city legislation. Georgia law punishes possession of any amount of marijuana with six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. It is the arresting officer’s discretion to choose which to enforce, although the final punishment will fall on a judge.
- The new law only affects the city of South Fulton. Get caught in College Park? You’re looking at Georgia law. Cross into Union City? Same deal.
South Fulton City Council members have made their intentions clear: This isn’t an endorsement of weed.
“For me, the purpose is criminal justice reform, period,” Baker said. “It has nothing to do with marijuana usage or trying to legalize marijuana.”
The legislation also helps lessen the penalty for a law that has disproportionately affected people of color. A study by Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who authored the Atlanta legislation passed in October, revealed that more than 90 percent of people (810 out of 834) arrested in 2016 for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana in the city of Atlanta were black. More than 50 percent of Atlanta’s population is black in comparison to South Fulton’s nearly 90 percent black population.
“I just want to be on the right side of history,” Baker said.
After Clarkston and Atlanta, this makes South Fulton the third city in metro Atlanta to reduce the penalty for possessing a small amount of pot.