Next Story

Clayton facing possible litigation over apartment rehab plan

High hopes for Clarkston’s marijuana ordinance


The Clarkston City Council has voted unanimously to approve the most liberal marijuana ordinance in the state, reducing fine from up to $1,000 to $75 for possessing less than an ounce, and eliminating the possibility of jail time for breaking municipal law.

“We just made history,” whispered Sharon Ravert, a Dahlonega resident and advocate for marijuana legalization, when she saw the council’s seven hands raised in unison on Tuesday.

Mayor Ted Terry has argued that drug law enforcement “disproportionately affects lower income communities and communities of color.” As the state’s hotbed for refugee resettlement, Clarkston is one of the most diverse cities in the state. According to census statistics, the city of 12,000 is nearly 60 percent black and 53.5 percent foreign born.

“We’re not saying it’s legalized,” Terry said, “but we’re also saying we don’t want to ruin someone’s life or drain their bank account for what could be considered a simple mistake.”

But, despite Clarkston’s vote, it’s up to the discretion of law enforcement officers whether a person faces charges of violating the city ordinance or state law. When officers come across someone in possession of less than an ounce of pot, they can treat it either way.

While Tuesday’s vote reduces the penalty for a city violation, a person charged with a state offense could face higher fines and jail time. According to state law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Gov. Nathan Deal has repeatedly said that drug enforcement laws should be left to Congress. A similar effort to decriminalize marijuana in Athens failed last year when the city attorney concluded that state law trumped municipal. codes.

“There’s a food chain of ordinances, and municipal codes are at the very bottom,” said Chuck Spahos, the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia.

He thinks that Clarkston’s ordinance could lull citizens into a false sense of security. “From a legal standpoint, the municipality can’t prevent someone from being charged in a state or superior court.”

Clarkson Police Chief Christine Hudson had no objection to the vote. Even before council’s decision, she said, it was unlikely that violators would go to state court for mere possession of pot. Clarkston’s municipal judge rarely sentence someone to jail time for less than an ounce of marijuana, she added.

“Really and truthfully, nothing is changing for us,” Hudson said.

Terry, also a vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, has argued that the war on drugs has failed and that elected officials need to use “use evidence-based policies to make our communities safer and fight drug abuse.”

For Ravert, the necessity of changing marijuana laws became apparent in 2006 after her daughter was arrested for a gram and a half of the drug in Lumpkin County. It’s a charge, she said, that could have ruined the 19 year old’s life. Ravert since has become the executive director of Peachtree NORML, the Georgia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and travels the country lobbying for change.

Councilman Mario Williams, the chair of the public safety and legal committee, acknowledged that full decriminalization of marijuana isn’t possible under state law, but said the council is working within its legal authority by dramatically decreasing the fine.

The council hopes this philosophy will have a ripple effect on local governments throughout the state.

“We did a lot of fact finding on this issue, and we decided that the starting point is that, for every city in Georgia, those cities have the ability to regulate in the area of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana,” Williams said. The council hopes this philosophy will have a ripple effect on local governments throughout the state.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

Supreme Court cancels oral arguments concerning Trump’s travel ban
Supreme Court cancels oral arguments concerning Trump’s travel ban

The U.S. Supreme Court has canceled next month’s oral arguments concerning President Donald Trump’s travel ban, citing the new travel restrictions he issued by proclamation Sunday. The high court isn’t disposing of the case. Rather, it is asking both sides to file briefs by Oct. 5, showing whether the case is now moot, given the new...
Barrow plunges back into politics with Georgia secretary of state bid
Barrow plunges back into politics with Georgia secretary of state bid

Former Georgia Congressman John Barrow, who was the last white Democrat from the Deep South in Congress, will end a three-year absence from politics with a statewide Democratic bid to become secretary of state in 2018. Barrow said in a statement Monday that he refuses to “stand on the sidelines when we face such huge challenges” and vowed...
The Right gives Trump the win in national anthem protests
The Right gives Trump the win in national anthem protests

A roundup of editorials Monday looks at how fans booed the players who did not stand for the anthem, how liberals don’t get Joe and Jane Sixpack and why the players, owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell should be ashamed of themselves. Here are some opinions from the Right. 1. Trump wins when the NFL takes a knee From The Daily Caller:...
Georgia ethics panel will audit candidates in governor’s, mayor’s races
Georgia ethics panel will audit candidates in governor’s, mayor’s races

Candidates for governor in Georgia are often targets of campaign-report-related ethics complaints from political opponents who don’t want them to win the state’s top job. But they’d better keep an even closer eye on their campaign books in 2018. Because the state’s ethics watchdog agency is going to be auditing them. In addition...
Trump is nothing more than a racist provocateur, according to the Left 
Trump is nothing more than a racist provocateur, according to the Left 

A roundup of editorials Monday looks at how President Donald Trump insists on stirring the racial pot, how the player who sparked the protest won the day and how the president holds a “slave master-like obsession” with attacking blacks. Here are some opinions from the Left. 1. Trump keeps fanning racial flames From the Ashbury Park...
More Stories