Atlanta, Georgia is the latest city in the country to decriminalize cannabis, as of a unanimous vote by the city council on Monday night. Possession of any amount under an ounce now warrants only a $75 fine. Possession is still a crime in the rest of Georgia, warranting up to 6 months in jail or $1,000 in fines.
The decision was made to counteract some (to the say the least) racial inequality in the city’s cannabis arrests. Nationwide, 80 percent of arrests for marijuana are of African-Americans. But Atlanta outdoes the country in shittiness when it comes to that department; 92 percent of people arrested for weed between 2014 and 2016 were black. So, this move should hopefully iron out some of the city’s racist creases.
In doing so, Atlanta joins the ranks of some other badass cities that have decided to go down the same track. In the last few years, Washington, D.C. legalized cannabis, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reduced marijuana possession to a small fine, and Kansas City did the same just last April.
Sometimes, however, decriminalization can go bad. As Fortune pointed out in a recent article, though Nashville and Memphis both voted to decriminalize cannabis last September, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill repealing their decriminalization months later. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed an MMJ bill into law earlier this year, so he’s unlikely to put the kibosh Atlanta’s new policy.
Atlanta’s decriminalization can also be seen as problematic in some ways. They may create an atmosphere where cannabis users think they can get away with smoking weed, which they can’t. If state law enforcement arrests someone for marijuana, strict state laws still apply, fetching up to 6 months in jail or $1,000 in fines for possession.
Additionally, weed decriminalization creates a tolerated market of buyers for a controlled substance that’s still a crime (likely a felony) to sell. That means that though Atlantans, and especially black Atlantans, may have less to fear from racial profiling city police, the people who supply them will be somewhat hypocritically getting prison sentences.
Photo by Flickr user Brett Weinstein