Savannah Ga. Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana
By Roger Malespin
The city of Savannah, Georgia became the third city in the state to lessen the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana last week. The vote was nearly unanimous, and the main reason cited was Georgia’s highly disproportionate amount of black males arrested for minor possession. The measure has been a focus of Alderman Van Johnson, who has been resolute in his progress towards criminal justice reform in the state.
“It’s an opportunity to increase education, employment, housing,” he said.
The move follows similar changes adopted in Atlanta and DeKalb county. There are a number of state senators who are looking to decriminalization as a means to combat increasing gang violence across the state, and eliminating unfair, long term consequences for simple possession. State senator Curt Thompson cited a projected $340 million in potential revenue to be had, which legislators would put toward much needed funding for transportation and education.
“It would be 50 percent for transportation, which could go to mass transit, or roads, and then 50 percent to the Hope Scholarship,” Thompson said.
It should be noted, however, that the move in Savannah was strictly for reducing small possession penalties in that city only, and there was no talk of statewide legalization. Georgia still faces strong opposition to statewide marijuana motions, even from some of the Democratic lawmakers. Last year, Thompson proposed similar legislation but it failed to garner significant support.
Georgia currently has very stiff penalties for simple possession, which include up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine, and suspension of one’s driver’s license. The new measure in Savannah allows the possibilty of a $150 fine and posssibilty of no arrest.
While this may seem like a small victory at the moment, it’s a fairly big crack in the old school, hard on drugs armor the state has been known for. Alderman Johnson is focused on cultivating young citizens into productive adults, which he says is greatly hampered by current marijuana laws.
“As we look at these issues of criminality, we have to look at the reasons younger people—and some older people—are prevented from becoming self-sustaining adults. “For many of them, that indiscretion, that spot on their record, is preventing them from achieving the Savannah dream,” he said.
These sentiments were echoed by Interim Police Chief Mark Revenew, who said “it puts a burden on these young kids, who, 20 years down the road, they’re trying to get a respectable job and they find themselves with the scarlet letter... a lot of kids make dumb mistakes, and I don’t think they should carry that burden.”
Another benefit of legalization would be the streamlining of the crowded courts and police funding allocation. Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars per year would be saved by police, who would be free to focus on actual crimes.
The nation’s perception of recreational marijuana is rapidly changing, and Georgia, though progressing slower, has the potential to become a major ally in the fight for nationwide legalization if support continues.