Atlanta’s city council decided unanimously to decriminalize marijuana Monday night. They voted 15-0 to make the penalty for possession of one ounce or less a $75 fine — a move that aims to neutralize uneven policing and enforcement of drug laws in the city where 92% of individuals arrested for marijuana between 2014 and 2016 were black.
What’s the difference between legalization and decriminalization?
It’s important to note that this change in Atlanta’s doesn’t make it legal to possess marijuana. It also won’t override the fact that outside Atlanta city limits, Georgia penalties for possession of marijuana include a 6-month jail term and fine of up to $1,000.
“If you get arrested by anybody but a city cop, you’re toast,” Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean said during a council safety committee meeting in April.
The decriminalization of weed just means that possession of the drug no longer leads to jail time. Without full legalization, weed is still an illicit substance that’s you can’t buy, grow, or sell.
In cities and states where marijuana is legalized, it can be grown, bought and sold in a regulated market, much like alcohol.
Decriminalization of Weed in the U.S.
While a few states like Nevada, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington have legalized recreational cannabis, many others have created laws to decriminalize it or allow for the use of medicinal marijuana.
In other states, like Georgia, it’s more progressive metro areas that are pushing ahead with decriminalization of weed. Atlanta is the latest in a series of cities that have voted to eliminate jail time for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Washington, D.C. passed Initiative 71, which made it legal for adults 21 years of age or older to possess less than two ounces of marijuana after February 26, 2015.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania passed a law, which took effect at the beginning of 2016, that makes possession of less than an ounce punishable with a $25 fine. Those caught smoking marijuana and in possession of less than an ounce face a $100 fine.
Kansas City voters approved a measure in April that lowered fines to $25 and removed jail time for possession of 35 grams of cannabis or less.
It’s also worth noting that some state governments have reversed these municipal decisions to decriminalize weed. In Tennessee, Nashville and Memphis voted to decriminalize marijuana in September 2016, but Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law in April that repealed those policies.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to review and sign the city council’s legislation. There’s no word yet on what the state legislature thinks of its decriminalization decision, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a medical marijuana bill into law in May.