Atlanta City Council’s decision to reduce the punishment for minor marijuana possession could set a precedent for other Georgia cities.
But for Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, it’s a complicated issue when a local government’s action conflicts with state law.
The mayor said he did not have an opinion on whether there should be more lenient penalties for people caught with small amounts of marijuana, but he did weigh in on the process that Atlanta leaders and states such as Colorado have followed.
The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously this week to eliminate jail time and institute a $75 fine instead for someone possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The decision came, in part, due to statistics showing that black people accounted for 92 percent of marijuana arrests between 2014-2016.
After the vote, the Atlanta police chief clarified that marijuana possession was still illegal in the city, but that the ordinance would change how those cases are handled by local courts, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Asked by The Telegraph whether he would support taking similar action in Macon-Bibb, Reichert said it’s something that should be decided at a higher level. One issue that arises is that changing a local ordinance on the matter would be running counter to state and federal law.
It also puts local courts in a quandary, he said.
In Colorado, where state legislators legalized marijuana, officials can at least make an argument that the state should be able to decide the matter over the federal government, Reichert said.
“Maybe a state can do it, but an individual city within a state, to say we’re going to decriminalize this, I think is going to create a problem,” Reichert said. “This ought to be statewide at the very least. It ought to be federal legislation to say we decriminalize marijuana possession for less than an ounce.”