Clarkston Councilman Seeks to Decriminalize Cannabis
(APN) CLARKSTON — City of Clarkston Councilman Dean Moore recently announced plans to introduce legislation to make possession of under one ounce of cannabis (“marijuana”) a traffic offense with a fine of five dollars.
Last year, seventy people in Clarkston went to jail for marijuana possession. The estimated population of Clarkston in 2014 was 7,846.
“Our strategy is to reduce the marginalization of our residents and public. The arrest record is creating joblessness, homelessness, and poverty that leads to other crimes,” Councilman Moore said in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
“This is a criminal justice reform measure,” Ted Terry, Mayor of Clarkston, agreed.
“People are being picked up on low level non-violent marijuana offenses and having to go to jail and spend thousands of dollars with probation fees and fines,” Terry said.
“It makes sense we should create a system that wasn’t punitive. We are talking about a policy to direct our police officer to treat [possession of under one ounce of marijuana] as a traffic ticket. It’s called concurrent jurisdiction,” Terry said.
The Georgia Supreme Court upheld this in the late 1990’s and it was enacted by Georgia law in 1983. The code section is 36-32-6 (d) Jurisdiction in marijuana possession cases, etc.
Section d states that nothing in this Code section shall be construed to give any municipality the right to impose a fine or punish by imprisonment in excess of the limits as set forth in the municipality’s charter.
Every city in Georgia, if having the political will and humanitarian spirit, could pass such a law in their city’s charter and virtually end prohibition in Georgia.
Moore plans to introduce legislation at the next Council meeting on May 03, 2016. All Clarkston Council seats are at-large, so Moore serves citywide.
Moore says that Atlanta Progressive News’s extensive coverage of the advocacy and policy issues involving cannabis in Georgia, helped inform him as he was drafting his bill for decriminalization.
“I have read some of the APN report where you have done research that shows a lot of the laws are applied to people other than White people. It’s a big percentage that is marginalized by something like this,” Moore said.
As APN earlier reported, cannabis usage is roughly the same among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested, as revealed by the American Civil Liberties Union. In Georgia, Blacks are four to ten times more likely than Whites to be arrested for cannabis.
Moore is concerned about the way Clarkston’s criminal penalties for cannabis possession are applied to immigrants, and to Black and Brown people.
Clarkston has one of the most diverse populations in the county of resettling refugees from around the world fleeing from war torn countries and all kinds of other circumstances.
“If you are welcoming people from around the world to come here and you have procedures in place to marginalize our own public citizens with possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, you are really asking for disaster,” Moore said.
Clarkston is working toward economic development and making improvements all across the city, and the proposed policy is just one facet that affects individuals.
The policy change is just one part of a whole economic development initiative to ensure that individuals are given the opportunity to contribute to the economic success of the city, and not be prevented from pursuing their own empowerment by unjust and outdated laws.
“It’s unfortunate that law enforcement have a different perspective than the rest of us. They want to tag people and keep track of them through arrest record and that’s what contributes to the whole problem. That’s the thinking we are going to have to deal with and turn that around, unless someone is committing a real crime,” Moore said.
“Once a person is tagged with an arrest record, they can’t get a job, they become homeless and in poverty and turn to other means to survive. It has a snowball effect. You need to stop that thinking, and stop that process of putting a tag on somebody to make sure they never do anything wrong,” Moore said.
Moore believes he has the backing of other Council Members, who also think the proposal is a good idea whose time has come.
The small City of Clarkston is recently becoming a hotbed of progressive political activity.
Mayor Terry, a progressive Democrat who was always one of the less disagreeable members of the state party establishment, and a labor activist, was elected Mayor in 2013.
Last year, in 2015, Mario Williams, a progressive attorney at the Williams-Oinonen law firm, was elected to the City Council. Previously, Williams assisted APN in 2010 and 2011, when APN’s News Editor was in open meetings litigation with the City of Atlanta – Williams helped with free photocopying and printing of several documents.
Long known internationally as a place for refugees to resettle, Clarkston was in the news last year when Mayor Terry declared that Clarkston would be happy to welcome more refugees from Syria, despite more unwelcoming comments that had been made by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Clarkston now becomes the first city in Georgia to propose decriminalization of cannabis. Numerous cities in Florida–including most recently, the not-so-progressive city of Tampa–are among the copious cities nationwide that have already done the same.