On Tuesday March 21st, the Atlanta City Council Public Safety Committee's working group met to discuss reducing the penalties for possession of cannabis. This was the third in a series of meetings to address a re-work of the 84 Quality of Life ordinances initiated by Councilmember Kwanza Hall. Even though these ordinances were originally intended to make the downtown area more tourist and visitor friendly, they were used as grounds to disproportionally arrest, incarcerate and oppress minorities.
The first of the Quality of Life hearings held on February 24th was emotion filled and at times hostile towards the council members - watch that hearing here - this meeting, in contrast, was calm, civil and solely focused on possesion of marijuana.
While there is still work to be done on fine tuning the language of the ordinance, this is what they have so far:
It shall be unlawful for any person to possess one ounce or less of marijuana within the corporate limits of the city. Any person found guilty of violating this section shall be subject to a maximum fine of $75 and not subject to confinement for any period of time
the penalty provided in section 1-8:provided that any defendant charged with possession of one ounce or less of marijuana shall be entitled on request to have the case against such defendant transferred to the court having general misdemeanor jurisdiction in the county wherein the alleged offense occurred
Once again, the committee heard expert testimony from representatives from a broad spectrum of public agencies and many organizations actively concerned and involved in harm reduction, criminal justice reform and improving relations between the police and the communities they serve.
Below is a list of those that testified with the time they started and the topic. The majority of the testimony provided focused on the racial disparity of the war on drugs and the long term damage that interaction with the criminal justice system inflects on individuals, families and the community. The secondary focus was the issue of morality as it relates to the war on drugs and that is becoming ever more apparent that the factors driving it are putting profit over people's human rights, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
A major highlight of the testimony came from Ted Terry, Mayor of Clarkston. Mayor Terry gave a thorough explanation of how the City of Clarkston passed an ordinance to reduce the penatly for possession of cannabis to a $75 ticket. Mr. Terry cited statistics on arrests and revenue from before and after the passage of the ordinance and stated that Clarkston has not become a "Drug Haven" as predicted by those that were opposed.
Assistant Chief Rodney Bryant of the Atlanta Police Department indicated in his testimony that the Department would comply with whatever ordinance was passed by City Council, however he emphasized that beat officers would have the discretion to determine if an individual case warranted state charges, such as intent to distribute.
Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Reed, Katrina Taylor Parks, testified that the Mayor's office was against reducing the fines and penalties for possession of marijuana. Morse Diggs from Fox5 Atlanta based his entire report around Ms. Park's statement, seen here, to reach the flawed conclusion that any such ordinance was doomed to failure. The point Mr. Diggs did not report is that City Council can override a veto with a 2/3 majority. Nor did Mr. Diggs offer any opinion on the damage that a veto on this measure could cause Kasim Reed.
The indication from the members of the Committee is that this ordinance will pass favorably. Individual committee members have stated off the record that it will pass. Committee Chair Andre Dickens stated during this hearing that what remains to be worked out before this ordinance passes is to work out the final details for the quantity limits, the fines and how to address repeat offenders. According Mr. Dickens, at the next meeting on March 28th, a final version will be presented to the committee for approval before the ordinance moves to the full City Council for a vote.
Special thanks are offered to Councilmember Kwanza Hall for his work towards fixing the City of Atlanta's issues with the Jim Crow-esque Quality of Life ordinances and especially the possession of marijuana issue. Repealing and reforming this section of Atlanta City code is certainly the right thing to do from a social justice perspective. Evaluating the overall impact of the enforcement of the current code section from a risk management viewpoint, reducing simple possession to a ticket is absolutely the right thing to do, ASAP. Why? because it would not be hard to conclude that the City of Atlanta would not prevail in any class action suit based on the racial disparity exhibited in the statistics of the arrests and prosecutions due to the fact that 92% of those arrested and prosecuted for simple possession of cannabis are Black. If the inevitability of a huge legal settlement isn't enough of a reason to reform the code, then the morality of destroying a young person's future with a "gateway arrest" seriously needs to be the ultimate consideration.
Here are the times that each speaker begins and link to the video - from Channel 26.
06:50 - Mawuli Davis - Attorney, Davis Bozeman Law Firm, Founding Member - Let Us Make Man Initiative
18:45 - Mayor Ted Terry - City of Clarkston
39:00 - Che Johnson Long - Racial justice Action Center
1:07:15 - Amber Robinson - Atlanta City Attorney’s Office
1:13:55 - Senator Vincent Fort - Georgia Legislature
1:21:36 - Rev. Bob Thompson - Chair, Compassionate Atlanta
1:26:28 - Dr. Camara Jones - City of Atlanta Appointee to the DeKalb Board of Public Health, Immediate Past President of the American Public Health Association
1:35:08 - Assistant Chief Rodney Bryant - APD
1:57:32 - Xochitl Bervera – Racial Justice Action Center
1:58:16 - Erica Morris Long – Atlanta Public Schools
1:59:16 - Katrina Taylor Parks – Deputy Chief of Staff, Kasim Reed Administration
2:04:30 - Ann Pollock - Midtown Homeowner, College Professor
2:06:55 - James Bell - Ga CARE Project
2:07:56 - Sharon Ravert - Peachtree NORML
2:09:03 - Dean Sines - Peachtree NORML
2:10:19 - Tracy Manning - GA CARE Project
2:11:30 - Paul Cornwell - CAMP -Coalition for the abolition of marijuana prohibition
2:14:44 - Ted Metz - Liberty America
2:17:10 - Gerald Griggs – Attorney, NAACP Atlanta and NAACP Georgia
2:18:58 - Tony Michelle Williams - Solutions not Punishment
2:23:35 - Marilyn Winn - Director Women on the Rise
2:24:53 - Marshall Rancifer - Justice For All Coalition
2:29:00 - Camelle Walton - Racial Justice Action Center