Alderman in Savannah to pursue reduced penalties for marijuana possession

One Alderman in the City of Savannah seems to think it would be beneficial to follow in the footsteps of the City of Atlanta when it comes to decriminalization of marijuana.

Savannah Morning News reported Monday morning that Van Johnson plans to bring before council a draft ordinance that would eliminate jail time and reduce the fine to $150 for persons caught with less than one ounce of marijuana. The current maximum fine is $1,000.

The publication reported that Johnson “…was motivated to develop the ordinance after a similar ordinance was passed this month by the Atlanta City Council as a way to spare many young people of arrest records that make it difficult to obtain employment, housing and attend school. The change is also intended to address demographic disparities in arrest rates for this offence, due to disproportionate amount of minorities charged with such offenses.”

Johnson also mentioned the diversion of lower level offenses out of the court system which would redirect resources toward more violent crimes, a much bigger problem in Savannah. And about that $150 fine? Johnson said in a social media post that he would like it to be earmarked for drug treatment for those willing.

Based on initial news reports, it’s evident that Johnson has not yet communicated his idea to the city attorney, the city manager, or any law enforcement officials.

Just like with the City of Atlanta, local ordinances do not cancel out state law which means people can still be arrested by county and state law enforcement officials.  Johnson, ironically, is a Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) certified peace officer and law enforcement instructor.

In other areas of the country, like Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Kansas City, decriminalization efforts have been succesful and remain on the books, while efforts in Nashville and Memphis were successful locally but cancelled out by a state law enacted by the legislature and signed by the Governor.

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