Changes in How the City of Atlanta Handles Possession of Marijuana Tickets

If you are a Georgia resident, there’s a good chance you have heard that the city of Atlanta passed a new city ordinance in late 2017 which essentially “decriminalizes” possession of small amounts of marijuana. Before you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation—and one which potentially has criminal charges attached—it is best to know all the particulars about the new ordinance. A unanimous vote by the City Council of Atlanta, changed the penalties for marijuana possession (1 ounce or less) from a possible jail term of six months and a fine as large as $1,000 to a $75 fine only—little more than a slap on the wrist.

Decriminalized Does Not Mean Legal
Before you get too happy about this turn of events, remember that just because the criminal penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis has substantially decreased, possession of the drug in any amount is still against the law. There is some confusion regarding the terms “decriminalized” and “legalized”—which are not the same thing at all. While it is still not legal to possess these small amounts of cannabis, the offense has been decriminalized in Atlanta, meaning it can no longer lead to a stint in jail.

Decriminalization Exists Only Within the Atlanta City Limits
That being said, marijuana remains an illicit drug which cannot legally be purchased, grown or sold anywhere within the state of Georgia. Note also, that this decriminalization of these small amounts of marijuana is only within the city limits of Atlanta, and not anywhere else in the state. This means that should you be found in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in any other city or county in Georgia, you could face a six-month jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.

Yet another distinction regarding Atlanta’s decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Even if you are within the city limits of Atlanta, but are stopped by any law enforcement officer except an Atlanta Police Officer, Atlanta’s new city ordinance will not apply, and you could receive a much harsher sentence.

Mayoral Candidate Believes New Ordinance Will Reduce Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests
Mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall says he hopes these changes will reduce the racial disparities in Atlanta marijuana arrests and will stop the jailing of those who commit a relatively minor drug offense like possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. According to Hall, as many as 92 percent of those jailed in the city of Atlanta for marijuana crimes are African American—even though the African American population in Atlanta is about 54 percent.

Hall asserts that the former punishment for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana simply did not fit the crime, and believes strongly in the new ordinance. Hall believes millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year trying and jailing marijuana offenders, and that such actions have left an entire generation of young people unable to obtain employment because of their marijuana conviction.

Jurisdiction Issues Could Be a Problem
Some are worried about jurisdiction issues, particularly those between the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia State University Police. Chief of the Georgia State University Police Department, Joseph Spillane, says his department already runs most of the campus marijuana arrests through the city, and that now his department will be able to allow students caught with small amounts of marijuana to go through a pre-trial intervention, which would all the arrest to be dropped from their record. The issue could also be handled through the Georgia State University Student Code of Conduct.

Call Melanie Ellwanger If You Are Facing Georgia Marijuana Charges
Despite these changes in Atlanta, charges for possession of marijuana in the state of Georgia can have extremely serious, even life-altering consequences. Because of this, it is imperative that you contact a highly experienced criminal defense attorney like Melanie Ellwanger immediately after a drug arrest in the state of Georgia. Melanie is a knowledgeable, results-driven Georgia criminal defense attorney with the necessary skillsets to help her clients achieve the very best possible outcome to their drug charges. Contact Melanie 24/7 at 404-803-3105 or melanie@hiremelaw.com.