Politics & Government

Will proposal to reduce marijuana penalties pass in Macon-Bibb? Commissioners are split

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A showdown is brewing over a proposal to reduce the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Macon-Bibb County.

Five county commissioners would need to vote in favor of the ordinance that would make the penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana a $75 fine. Currently, four commissioners are sponsoring the measure that could come up for vote as early as Tuesday.

Supporters say the new ordinance would reduce the chance that someone is forced to pay a large fine and face probation or jail time that comes with a simple marijuana possession case. Under state law the penalty for misdemeanor possession is up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

By creating a county ordinance it would give Bibb County sheriff’s deputies the option to treat it like a speeding ticket.

The ordinance is being sponsored by Commissioners Al Tillman, Virgil Watkins, Elaine Lucas and Larry Schlesinger.

Watkins and Tillman urged the public during a forum Tuesday at Overtyme Bar and Grill to ask other commissioners to back the proposal. The two officials also answered questions about how the ordinance would be enforced.

“No other law has went away,” Watkins said. “We’ve added another option for them.”

There is resistance to the proposal from some commissioners, which is casting doubt that it would get the three votes needed to get out of the commission’s Public Safety Committee.

The ordinance would have a better chance by bypassing that committee, Tillman said.

Tillman said he will ask that the ordinance be added to the agenda for Tuesday’s regular County Commission meeting. Five of the nine commissioners would need to agree to do so during the pre-commission meeting.

Then another five votes would be needed for the ordinance to pass during the regular commission meeting.

Commissioner Joe Allen said he wants to keep people out of jail for small amounts of marijuana possession, but has concerns about trying to supersede state law and what the new penalty would be in Macon-Bibb.

“I’d like to have a discussion beforehand about the amount of pot and fines as I’ve stated,” he said Wednesday. “I think the rate should be lower to discourage distributors and the fines higher to discourage use.”

If approved, Macon-Bibb County would join Fulton County and cities such as Atlanta, Forest Park and Savannah to decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana possession in the state.

Tillman said the latest version of the Macon-Bibb ordinance replaces the term “decriminalization” with “decreasing penalties.”

The ordinance would give those people a second chance, he said.

“I think Macon can set a precedent for what can happen around the state,” Tillman said.

Schlesinger said he wants to minimize the impact that simple possession charges are having on many young people.

“My concern is particularly for young people who quote-unquote through youthful indiscretion wind up with a misdemeanor record that’s going to handicap them in a number of ways going forward,” he said.

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