Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed a bill Tuesday that will lessen the penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, taking direct aim at the disparities found in the penalties for possession.
The previous law allowed for a harsh penalty of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone caught in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The new legislation lowers that to just a $75 ticket and no jail time.
“I am pleased to sign this ordinance, which eliminates jail time as a penalty for a conviction for possession of less than an ounce, into law…,” Mayor Reed said. “People of color, young and low-income people are disproportionately jailed – with sentences up to six months – for possessing small amounts of marijuana. An average of 1,000 people are arrested each year in Atlanta for possession only. We needed to change that. I believe our public safety resources are better directed to stopping and preventing violent crime.”
Research shows that White and Black Americans use marijuana at similar levels, yet Black Americans are arrested and charged at higher rates, the mayor’s office said.
Atlanta City Council unanimously passed the legislation last week.
“Ninety percent of the people who are in our jails for possession of marijuana are young African-Americans,” Atlanta Councilman Kwanza Hall said. He introduced the legislation this past March. “People are losing their jobs. People are losing their scholarships. Families are being torn apart for something that we should really be ashamed of.”
He added: “Atlanta has to be the leader in this conversation of justice reform,” Hall said. “This is a fact. We’re not making up the numbers. You go over to the jail, what do you see?”