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Macon-Bibb passes new marijuana ordinance: No jail time for small amounts of pot

Bibb County sheriff gives a demonstration after proposed marijuana ordinance

"How many joints can you roll with almost an ounce of pot?" Sheriff David Davis talks in a video posted to the Bibb County Sheriff's Office Facebook page about the proposed ordinance for the decriminalization of less than an ounce of marijuana.
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"How many joints can you roll with almost an ounce of pot?" Sheriff David Davis talks in a video posted to the Bibb County Sheriff's Office Facebook page about the proposed ordinance for the decriminalization of less than an ounce of marijuana.

An ordinance that eliminates jail time for misdemeanor marijuana possession and sets the fine at $75 was adopted by Macon-Bibb County Commissioners late Tuesday.

The ordinance, which applies to amounts less than one ounce, passed with a 5-4 vote after weeks of public opinion and discussion.

Commissioners Al Tillman, Virgil Watkins, Elaine Lucas, Bert Bivins and Larry Schlesinger voted for the ordinance while Scotty Shepherd, Joe Allen, Valerie Wynn and Mallory Jones opposed it.

Jones, Wynn, Watkins and Tillman were the only commissioners to speak on the matter.

Tillman, who first proposed the ordinance, said Macon makes the 10th municipality in Georgia to adopt a law reducing the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“In doing the research and talking to so many people, this is probably the first municipality that you had the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office, the solicitor general’s office, to not come out and fight us tooth and nail on this,” Tillman said.

The maximum penalty under state law for a misdemeanor marijuana possession is still one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The new ordinance allows deputies to hand out lesser penalties with no jail time.

Watkins noted that the criminal justice system “affects south and west Macon boys differently than those in north Macon,” and while many end up with a $300 fine, the punishment is much harsher for some.

In rebuking the ordinance, Jones stated that the DEA “still considers pot on par with drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine,” all of which have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.

Echoing Jones, Wynn said marijuana is a “a gateway drug” and a fine would only serve as encouragement for people to use it.

Schlesinger said he voted for the ordinance because misdemeanor charges too often keep people in need of a job from getting one, even if it’s in the distant past.

“The way I see it is, we’re really trying to, from my perspective, safeguard the future of our children,” Schlesinger said. Children “end up in possession of small quantities of marijuana who don’t deserve to have a misdemeanor blemish on their record that’s going to dog them for the rest of their lives.”

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