Should less than an ounce of marijuana send you to jail?

ATLANTA — After a vote Tuesday afternoon, the Atlanta City Council is one vote away from decriminalizing possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

The City Council's public safety committee decided to send the plan to the full council. Three committee members voted for the resolution, one voted against it and one declared no vote on it.

The current law allows for a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone caught in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who supports the proposal, said this is a racial issue.

“Ninety percent of the people who are in our jails for possession of marijuana are young African-Americans,” Hall said. “People are losing their jobs. People are losing their scholarships. Families are being torn apart for something that we should really be ashamed of.”

If the full council votes yes on the proposal, the penalty for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana could be lowered to just a $75 ticket and no jail time.


Johnny Martinez, who owns two local businesses, thinks the city of Atlanta should not punish people caught with a small amount of marijuana.

“I think it’s the right thing for the city to do,” Martinez told Channel 2’s Carl Willis.

The new ordinance would reduce penalties that Martinez said prevented his family from getting marijuana tincture for his 98-year-old grandmother, who suffered from dementia.

"I think it's wrong that a woman in that stage of her life couldn't go through and find some sort of comfort in that," Martinez said.

Even with Tuesday’s vote to move the proposal to the full council, there were some reservations from members of the committee.

"I think there ought to be controls on substances like this," City Councilman Ivory Young said. "We need to be very careful because as quickly as we provide a license to do certain things it often becomes legal precedent."

"Half of the country has awoken up to this. It's time for Atlanta to be awake as well," Hall said.

Hall said the current laws disproportionately affect minorities.

“Atlanta has to be the leader in this conversation of justice reform,” Hall said. "This is a fact. We're not making up the numbers. You go over to the jail, what do you see?"

The vote on the new ordinance will go before the full council on Monday.