Atlanta City Council cuts penalties, jail time for some pot possession

The Atlanta City Council on Monday unanimously passed legislation eliminating jail time and reducing penalties on possession of small amounts of marijuana, but not before mayoral candidates got into heated debates and backers of the bill became rowdy.

The legislation, which was resurrected in September after spending months in committees because of concerns it might send the wrong message, brings Atlanta closer to other large cities across the nation that are either lessening penalties on pot or decriminalizing it altogether as Americans’ opinions on the drug evolve.

It will reduce the financial penalty for possession of one ounce or less from up to $1,000 to a maximum of $75. Jail time, currently six months for possession, would be eliminated for an ounce or less.

Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Nashville are among a growing number of cities that have passed various laws in the past few years allowing residents to possess, grow or share certain amounts of pot without going to jail. They follow the decriminalization of the drug in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California and in the nation’s capital, though cannabis is still illegal federally.

Mayoral candidates Keisha Lance Bottoms, an Atlanta City Councilwoman, and Vincent Fort, a state senator and advocate for changing the law, clashed in a fiery war of words over the legislation. Fort had just made a pitch to the council to pass the proposal when Bottoms asked why he was putting the burden on the city and not the General Assembly.

“Why didn’t you pass this at the state level where it actually could make a difference,” Bottoms asked, later saying her concern is Atlanta residents will not know they can still be arrested and charged by state law for marijuana possession if caught with an ounce or less, despite the Council’s actions.

Fort shot back: “I’m glad you asked that question because if you took the time to send your staff to the computer, you will see that I’m an author of a bill to defelonize marijuana at the state capitol. Don’t try to score political points with me. Because scoring political points ain’t helping those kids over at the city jail.”

“I didn’t ask you what you introduced,” Bottoms responded as Fort kept talking. As Bottoms tried to clarify her statement, Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who is also running for mayor, tried to restore order. That led to a back-and-forth between Mitchell and Bottoms as the packed audience, restless to get on with business, hooted and on several occasions loudly chanted “vote, vote, vote.”

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who also is running to succeed Kasim Reed as Atlanta’s next mayor, had pushed the changes in Atlanta’s law since spring. He said the legislation was necessary because to address the disparity in the numbers of African Americans arrested for possession.

While white and black Americans use pot at about the same rate, African Americans are arrested and charged at larger rate. Between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested for possession in Atlanta were African American and 85 percent were male, according to the Racial Justice Action Center in East Point.

“Today we stand with every parent of Atlanta who is fearful of or has seen their children’s lives destroyed, or careers ruined because of a racist policy that unjustly incarcerated minorities by more than ninety percent,” Hall said just minutes after the passage. “Reforming the racist marijuana laws on the book in Atlanta has been just one in a number of reforms that I have fought for.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local


BeltLine Atlanta BeltLine Inc. acquires Railroad Corridor for Southside Trail Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently announced that the city of Atlanta has acquired the railroad corridor needed to complete the Atlanta BeltLine’s Southside Trail, connecting the Eastside and Westside Trails for approximately 14 contiguous miles of the Atlanta BeltLine...
Motion: Prosecutors excluded black jurors in seven death-penalty cases
Motion: Prosecutors excluded black jurors in seven death-penalty cases

In handwritten notes, Columbus prosecutors described prospective African-American jurors as “slow,” “ignorant,” “con artist” and “fat.” They also jotted a “B” or an “N” next to black people’s names on jury lists and routinely ranked them as the least desirable jurors. This...
JUST IN: Man charged in deadly I-285 crash in Sandy Springs
JUST IN: Man charged in deadly I-285 crash in Sandy Springs

A man faces vehicular homicide charges in a crash that killed a passenger and shut down I-285 East Sunday for more than five hours. David Cho, 61, was charged in the incident with failure to maintain a lane and second degree vehicular homicide, Sandy Springs police said. He is accused of starting a three-vehicle pileup that resulted in another crash...
Arts and recreation posts open in Fayette
Arts and recreation posts open in Fayette

Four seats are currently open on two Fayette County volunteer advisory boards. Three terms of varying lengths are available on the Public Arts Committee, which meets twice a month to devise and promote art-related events and projects that enhance community spaces. One four-year position is open on the Recreation Commission, which meets monthly to review...
State Route 13 reconstruction will close Bryant Road in Rest Haven
State Route 13 reconstruction will close Bryant Road in Rest Haven

Georgia Department of Transportation has permanently closed Bryant Road, a side street along State Route 13/Buford Highway in Rest Haven. This closure is part of the widening and reconstruction of S.R. 13/Buford Highway from Sawnee Avenue to State Route 347/Friendship Road, also known as Lanier Islands Parkway. Drivers navigating this area will use...
More Stories