Atlanta’s city council is contemplating making a smart move by decriminalizing marijuana possession (up to an ounce) within city limits. The current ludicrous threat of jail time would be replaced with a paltry $75 fine.
Many say Atlanta has a major policing problem along racial lines—more black residents are getting arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, to an eery degree. Proponents of this new policy say decriminalization could partially ease those tensions.
Currently, punishments vary for first-time possession of up to an ounce. On the second offense, however, you can pay up to $1000 in fines and spend up to one year in jail. Possessing more than an ounce can result in one to ten years behind bars.
A $75 fine would be a welcome change and would show that Atlanta is yet another in a long list of cities attempting to restore sanity to drug sentencing.
The War on Drugs and Racism
Between 2014 and 2016, 92 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession within Atlanta city limits were black, according to City Councilman Kwanza Hall. Current legislation is designed to reduce racial policing issues and lessen incarceration of blacks for nonviolent offenses. As marijuana becomes increasingly accepted, Atlanta’s arrest demographics look unsettling compared to the rest of the country. Thankfully, if city council alters these needlessly-punitive laws, policing in Atlanta has the opportunity to change for the better.
Last month, President Donald Trump appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the head of a task force aimed at curbing opioid use and abuse. On April 11, it was announced that Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino would likely step down from his current position to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as the “drug czar.” However, increased drug control is unlikely to prevent drug-related deaths. Before instituting harsher drug policies, Christie and Marino must acknowledge that drug regulation has already made the situation deadlier.
Throughout his political career, Christie vowed to further regulate various drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin. Despite his “get tough” attitude on narcotics, his state has seen opioid deaths climb by 214 percent since 2010. Yet Christie continues to make battling overdoses his top, and seemingly only, priority in his final year in office. He recently signed a bill into law that bars doctors from issuing a script of longer than five days for first-time painkiller prescriptions. It also requires that any prescription of a pain killer for acute pain is the “lowest effective dose.”
Similarly, in his time in Congress, Marino has focused a lot on drug issues. He introduced drug regulation bills in the house, including the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act which aims to stop drug trafficking across borders, and a bill that increases collaboration between the Drug Enforcement Agency and prescription pill companies.
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