Atlanta Council Debates Cannabis Decriminalization; Work Session Scheduled for Next Week (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — The Tuesday, February 14, 2017 Meeting of the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee was one of the wildest Committee Meetings of the Atlanta City Council in recent memory, as Committee Members discussed a proposed amendment by Ivory Young (District 3) to decriminalize cannabis (“marijuana”) in the City of Atlanta.
The Committee decided not to vote on Young’s amendment at that meeting, but to hold a Work Session in one week, on Tuesday February 21, that would address the issue.
Dozens of angry Atlanta residents, activists, and students packed the Committee Room, angered by the recent Atlanta police shooting of Deaundre Phillips, 24.
They demanded that the Committee consider two ordinances by Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2), including one that would repeal some seventy municipal offenses, including possession of cannabis as well as several other offenses like jaywalking that are disproportionately used to jail Black people in Atlanta. The other bill would require the immediate release of video tapes in police shootings.
The Committee had already discussed their plans in Briefing, attended by Atlanta Progressive News, to not take up either paper. In Briefing, Colleen Kiernan, an aide to Councilman Hall, said it was Hall’s intent to schedule first a work session on the ordinance related to video tapes, and then look at the decriminalization legislation.
“Why should we have to wait? How many more people have to die before you all people on City Council taken action? Today, not tomorrow, not one more minute, not one more life,” Dean Steed told the Committee.
Several people spoke about the killing of Deaundre Phillips, an incident in which reportedly the Atlanta Police Department smelled cannabis when Phillips was asleep in his car, and the next thing one knows, the police have killed him.
Activists say that decriminalizing cannabis in the City of Atlanta could have prevented the death of Mr. Phillips by preventing the police interaction in the first place.
Activist Marshall Rancifer presented statistics he gathered to show that the cannabis possession arrests in the City of Atlanta are extremely disproportionate as to include mostly Black people and few White people.
In the month of February 2016, Atlanta police have made 290 marijuana arrests; of those arrested, eight of those arrests were of White people, while the other 282 arrests were of Black people, Rancifer says.
The activists are part of an increasingly large and recurring group that is led by young people who have disrupted several Atlanta City Council Meetings, as previously reported by APN.
Chairman Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) allowed the activists to shout from the audience, vocally react to speakers, and approach the microphone to make comments after the comment period had officially ended.
Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean (District 8) got visibly frustrated after being interrupted several times. She approached the podium and said to the Editor of APN–the present writer–”Y’all only listen when Black people are speaking.” Adrean then repeated the comments to two activists standing near the podium, before walking out of the Committee Room.
After the public comment section had ended, and Chairman Dickens was responding to the comments and interacting with activists, Councilman Young made a motion to introduce a substitute ordinance that for now, would decriminalize cannabis as a stand alone measure.
This made the activists very excited because they wanted immediate action; however, Councilwoman Moore announced her intent to abstain for lack of information, after asking the Law Department to clarify how a city decriminalization ordinance would operate.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Amber Robinson told Moore that even if the City Council were to pass the ordinance as proposed by Mr. Young, that cannabis would still be illegal at the state level.
Moore asked Robinson also whether decriminalizing cannabis by the Atlanta City Council would prevent the Atlanta Police Department from arresting people under State of Georgia law. Robinson opined that that type of directive would have to come from the Mayor.
In Clarkston, the only city in Georgia that has decriminalized cannabis to date, Mayor Ted Terry, along with the full City Council there, supported the measure.
Councilwoman Adrean urged that there may be more people in the City who would wish to weigh in on this issue, also suggesting that a Work Session be held.
Activists were frustrated, however, because Councilman Hall introduced his two ordinances some six months ago, and since then has cancelled two Work Sessions on the ordinances.
In Briefing, Councilman CT Martin (District 10) asked why Hall had rescheduled the two Work Sessions, and Hall’s aide, Kiernan, stated that the Administration had requested the rescheduling twice. Katrina Taylor Parks, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Reed, later in Committee, confirmed this.
A source familiar with the matter, however, says the real reason Hall held his own legislation is because AJ Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District went ballistic. Of course, they want to preserve as many ways to criminalize poor, Black, and homeless people in downtown Atlanta as possible.
UPDATE 1 and CORRECTION: This report previously stated that Rancifer’s statistics were from 2017; however, they are from 2016.