Supporters rally for marijuana decriminalization in Atlanta - CBS46 News

Supporters rally for marijuana decriminalization in Atlanta

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Source: WGCL Source: WGCL

Several social justice groups gathered Friday outside the city jail to support Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall's proposal to make possession of a small amount of marijuana a non-arrestable offense.

"It's an offense that will just be a ticket. Did you hear me? It's an offense that will just be a ticket," said Hall, prompting a roaring applause.

Hall, who is running for mayor, is attempting to put pressure on his colleagues on city council. The proposed ordinance would make it a misdemeanor when someone is caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in the city of Atlanta. The punishment would include no jail time -- just a $75 fine. It's similar to an ordinance recently passed in the DeKalb County city of Clarkston.

Under current state law, marijuana possession is a felony that carries a punishment of jail time and a $1,000 fine.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, who's also a candidate for mayor of Atlanta, attended the rally, standing shoulder to shoulder with his rival. Fort has made a platform of decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Fort, Hall and their supporters say the current law unfairly punishes African-Americans.

Xochitl Bervera, director of the East Point-based Racial Justice Action Center, said studies show whites and blacks use marijuana at virtually the same rate.

"In the city of Atlanta, 92 percent of the arrests for possession of marijuana under an ounce are African-American," said Bervera. "That is an extreme disparity."

Stanley Atkins supports the measure. He says a marijuana arrest as a teenager got him kicked out of school.

"I have associates who have completely lost jobs. They've lost careers. I know students that have lost scholarships," Atkins said. "That cancels an internship, which later on cancels a potential job opening."

Any ordinance passed by city council would not supersede state law. However, according to Hall, if it passes -- and Atlanta's Chief of Police Erika Shields indicates that she wants her officers to stop arresting people simply for pot possession -- officers would likely choose to adhere to the city's version of the law in most cases.

Opponents of the ordinance worry that taking the jail time out of marijuana possession would be a disservice to young people because it could encourage them to take more risks with marijuana, which some consider to be a gateway to harder drugs.

Atlanta city council members are expected to vote on the proposal Monday.

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