Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb officials to consider decriminalizing misdemeanor marijuana possession

A proposal is being made to decriminalize marijuana possession for small amounts in Macon-Bibb County.

The proposed ordinance calls for a fine instead of a jail time as a penalty for possession of less than one ounce of pot. The proposal follows suit with other places in Georgia, including Fulton County and the cities of Atlanta and Savannah, where officials have approved similar decriminalization measures.

The Macon-Bibb ordinance, sponsored by County Commissioners Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins, states that anyone arrested with less than one ounce would pay a $75 fine.

The proposal would not make it legal to have marijuana, but instead treats a smaller quantity the same way as a speeding ticket.

Currently, possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor violation under state law. The maximum penalty in Georgia is one year in jail, a $1,000 fine and probation.

The marijuana decriminalization ordinance is on Tuesday’s County Commission committee agenda.

Tillman says he wants to prevent someone from going to jail for a few days and paying a hefty fine for having a small amount of marijuana.

“I’ve seen young men and women make judgment errors where a misdemeanor will cause them to lose their jobs and it’s just unnecessary,” Tillman said. “We as a local government should try to find ways to help the public and this is one of those ways.”

Watkins said the county would also save money on jail operations.

“Having folks spend significant amount of jail time for nonviolent offenses, with no crime victim, I think we can do a better job handling that,” Watkins said. “This type of charge is a prime example of that.”

Watkins stressed that if the ordinance is approved, it doesn’t mean people will be allowed to smoke pot in public.

“It’s still very much illegal,” he said. “It can still end up on your background check. At the same time you can still get an intent to distribute that differs from possession and you can get that intent to distribute with less than one ounce.”

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said the ordinance would probably not change how his deputies handle those cases in most instances. It could mean that most of those cases would go through Municipal Court instead of State Court.

“On the enforcement piece, it’s really not going to effect what deputies do that much,” Davis said. “We don’t normally bring that many people to jail on just that charge. They’re typically issued a citation.”

The topic of marijuana on the state level has mostly centered around the cultivation and possession of cannabis oil for medical treatment in recent years. A bill was passed by state lawmakers allowing limited in-state cultivation of marijuana for medical marijuana patients.

Davis said the Macon-Bibb decriminalization measure could mean the legalization of marijuana is broached later locally.

“We see it now on the local level. We saw it on the state level with the cultivation of medical marijuana,” he said. “It all goes hand in hand with the march toward legalization.”

Davis later added, “my job is to enforce the laws whatever they happened to be. If it happens to be you legalize marijuana across the board and regulate it like you do alcohol.”

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