State Sen. Vincent Fort on Monday implored the Atlanta City Council to move forward on a proposal to eliminate jail time and reduce the fines for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in Georgia’s capital.
“It is a gateway drug to mass incarceration, mostly of young African Americans,” said Fort, who is running for mayor of Atlanta and has advocated to decriminalize marijuana use in the city.
“The fact is if Miami can do it, if D.C. can do it, if dozens of cities around the country can do it, and if little bitty Clarkston can do it, (then) we can overcome the technical and legal obstructions and impediments,” to change the possession laws, Fort said.
The council has been struggling since late March on how to address the proposal by City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who also is running for mayor.
The proposal would reduce the fine for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from up to $1,000 to $75. Jail time would be eliminated instead of the six months under current law.
The council pulled the legislation last month and sent it back to committee because of concerns there was not enough discussion with law enforcement, courts, Atlanta Public Schools and other about the impact of the changes. Mayor Kasim Reed said in April he was unsure he’d sign the legislation if it was approved by council.
Supporters of the legislation said it is needed to address inequities in the disproportionate number of black Americans incarcerated because of pot possession.
Between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested in Atlanta for possession were African American and 85 percent were male, according to the Racial Justice Action Center in East Point. An American Civil Liberties Union analysis of marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 found blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested nationally for possession of the drug than whites.
“We can talk theoretically about the need to do things that benefit our young people,” Fort said. “But it is just theory until we apply that theory to reality.”