On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Mayor Kasim Reed signed an ordinance into law that reduces the penalty of possession of marijuana under an ounce in the city of Atlanta.
That doesn’t make it legal, however. The new legislation merely reduces the penalty from jail time to a $75 fine.
“Because marijuana use is still illegal in Atlanta, if a student is caught with it in the dorms or in housing, we usually refer them to either housing or the Dean of Students, Dr. Holloman, and he will then file a Code of Conduct violation on them,” said Georgia State University Police Department (GSUPD) Chief Joseph Spillane.
According to University Housing Director Randy Brown, students need to be fully aware of the bill and its ramifications and take note that marijuana use is still illegal.
“Marijuana will still be considered illegal in Atlanta, so the Housing Zero Tolerance policy for weapons and illegal drugs would still apply,” said Brown.
But Spillane said a problem within the department is consistency when dealing with marijuana.
“My only concern is that police officers still have discretion,” Spillane said. “Some officers could just write a ticket and let you walk, but some could take you into custody under state charges. That’s a fear I have, that an officer won’t see that somebody with a small amount of marijuana doesn’t deserve to go to jail.”
Even though the legislation states that there’s no longer jail time or a $1,000 fine for marijuana possession under an ounce, state law still says that any amount of weed is illegal and is punishable. So, despite Atlanta’s attempt at reducing the penalty, anybody prosecuted for possession in Georgia can be charged under state law. It’s all at the discretion of the police officer to decide, even in city limits.
“I personally feel like this is a form of progress,” Autumn Butler, a Georgia State sophomore, said. “Marijuana has been proven to have minimal negative effects, and its possession shouldn’t have such drastic punishments.”
According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Watch, there were 13 percent more arrests made in relation to small amounts of weed possession in comparison to arrests made for violent crimes such as murder and rape.
“I’m glad something is finally being done because, although it doesn’t legalize it, it removes the
unnecessary harsh punishments that come with having a drug that’s less harmful than tobacco products,” Butler said.
Some feel that the new legislation is a form of progress and is a sign of future change for the city of Atlanta.
“I feel like this is a step in the right direction for the city, because for the most part, if you look at the statistics, it’s young minorities who are being charged and locked up,” Spillane said. “We always say that policies need to change, but now something is actually being done.”