Councilmember Kwanza Hall and his colleagues passed legislation (17-O-1152) he introduced March 20 in Atlanta City Council that will dramatically reduce the penalty for marijuana possession in the city code. The vote passed unanimously. Hall thanked the city’s civil rights, criminal justice reform and social justice leaders for helping propel the legislation in a surge of momentum in the final week that sealed passage of the historic legislation.
In praising the leadership of his fellow Council members, Hall also thanked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for supporting the opportunity for this reform to become a reality.
“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,” stated Hall. “Reforming the racist marijuana laws on the book in Atlanta has been just one in a number of reforms that I have fought for.
“One of the leaders who recognized the unfairness and harshness of the law was Dr. George Napper, who was our city’s first African American Chief of Police, and I’d like to thank him for his support,” said Hall.
This legislation is one in a series of justice reform policies that Councilman Hall has introduced, including “Ban the Box,” which passed in 2014; the creation of the Pre-Arrest Diversion Pilot Program in 2015; and, in 2016, a law enforcement transparency and accountability measure and legislation to end broken windows policing.
One of the most powerful speakers during today’s vote was Charnette Trimble of Council District 4. “You destroy the black male, and you destroy the black family unit.”
The ordinance changes the penalty in the Atlanta Municipal code for possession of marijuana less than an ounce from the “general penalty” –which is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail–to a maximum fine of $75 and no jail time.
The legislation had been held since May. A key fact presented during the debate is that in Atlanta, the overwhelming number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses are African Americans (92%), even though studies have determined that usage is at similar levels across racial demographics.