Article by Liz Wolfe, Foundation for Economic Education
Atlanta’s city council is contemplating making a smart move by decriminalizing marijuana possession (up to an ounce) within city limits. The current ludicrous threat of jail time would be replaced with a paltry $75 fine.
Many say Atlanta has a major policing problem along racial lines—more black residents are getting arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, to an eery degree. Proponents of this new policy say decriminalization could partially ease those tensions.
Currently, punishments vary for first-time possession of up to an ounce. On the second offense, however, you can pay up to $1000 in fines and spend up to one year in jail. Possessing more than an ounce can result in one to ten years behind bars.
A $75 fine would be a welcome change and would show that Atlanta is yet another in a long list of cities attempting to restore sanity to drug sentencing.
The War on Drugs and Racism
Between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession within Atlanta city limits were black, according to City Councilman Kwanza Hall. Current legislation is designed to reduce racial policing issues and lessen incarceration of blacks for nonviolent offenses. As marijuana becomes increasingly accepted, Atlanta’s arrest demographics look unsettling compared to the rest of the country. Thankfully, if city council alters these needlessly-punitive laws, policing in Atlanta has the opportunity to change for the better.
Atlanta is no outlier in pursuing this change at the local level. City councils across the country are beginning to push bold new measures that sidestep state and federal laws. Of course, this creates obvious conflict between city, state, and federal lawmakers, which, will need to be sorted out by the courts. But it also allows local governments to decide which policy issues they care about and how to solve problems as they arise, without layers of bureaucracy.