Decriminalize Marijuana in Athens


What we want:

The ACC Government should pass a parallel ordinance allowing police officers to charge people possessing marijuana with a lesser civil penalty, perhaps a $50 ticket, rather than the much more serious charges prescribed by state law. On the state level, we are pushing for full legalization.

The benefits:

  1. Reducing incarceration. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Georgia’s in the fifth worst in the U.S, 34% higher than the U.S. average. We need to stop putting people in jail for minor offenses, which certainly includes marijuana possession.
  2. Resisting the attack on black Athenians. African-Americans are nearly five times as likely to be arrested on a marijuana charge in Clarke County. The drug war serves as a system of racial control by especially targeting people of color. We can limit the effectiveness of this oppression by decriminalizing in Athens.
  3. Saving money. Incarceration is extremely expensive and ACC just recently spent $77 million in SPLOST funds on expanding the county jail, even while crime rates are declining. That’s enough money to pay for every spending proposal on this platform for ten years.
  4. Medical use. Athenians who benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana would be taking a much smaller risk if ACC were to decriminalize.
  5. Personal freedom. People should be able to smoke pot if they want to.

The political situation:

Athens-Clarke County Attorney Bill Berryman has long maintained that the ACC government does not have the power to pass a parallel ordinance decriminalizing marijuana and that if it were to do so it would risk litigation from the state. However, in 2016, Clarkston became the first Georgia city to decriminalize by parallel ordinance. Arrests are down, crime has not increased, and there’s been no crackdown from the state. The County Attorney’s argument doesn’t seem to hold up.

Several commissioners have already voiced their support for a parallel ordinance. We need a vocal majority on the commission to make this happen over the Attorney’s objections. We can get there by way of a lot of pressure from the public on the current commissioners or by electing a new mayor and commission publicly committed to passing a parallel ordinance to decriminalize marijuana in Athens.