Fort, Hall Pledge to Implement Decriminalization, if Passed by Council
(APN) ATLANTA — Two candidates for Mayor of Atlanta in this November 2017 Municipal Election–State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) and Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2)–pledged that as Mayor, they would take steps to implement the decriminalization of cannabis (or “marijuana”) possession, if the Atlanta City Council were to pass the ordinance it is currently considering.
An ordinance by Councilman Hall, 17-O-1152, would alter the municipal penalties for possession of cannabis of under one ounce, to eliminate the possibility of jail time and reduce the possible fines to 75 dollars.
After several weeks of committee vetting and Work Sessions, on Monday, April 17, 2017, the City Council of Atlanta voted to send the legislation back to the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee, which approved it in March.
Dozens of community activists who packed Council Chambers jeered in disappointment.
In part, the Council sent the ordinance back to Committee because data was presented that suggested that a large number of arrests in Atlanta were occurring under State law, not municipal law.
Atlanta police have concurrent authority to arrest under state and municipal law. Currently, the state and municipal laws mirror each other, but that would change if the ordinance were adopted.
The City’s Mayor and Executive Branch clearly have important roles to play implementing, or not implementing, any policies that the City Council articulates regarding eliminating the possibility of jail time for cannabis possession.
“As Mayor I will set the appropriate SOPs,” or Standard Operating Procedures, Hall told APN.
“The Mayor has the ability to direct their police chief to direct and instruct their officers,” State Sen. Fort said.
Fort stopped short of saying he would issue a directive, saying it was more complicated than that, but agreed he would implement the law.
“The question is whether or not the City of Atlanta will continue to put thousands of people into the criminal justice system,” Fort said.
Atlanta Progressive News spoke with Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry about how the City of Clarkston was able to implement its decriminalization law, which was adopted in 2016.
Terry said that technically, officers in Clarkston continue to have discretion to arrest under state or municipal law when the case involves only possession of cannabis.
However, Terry said that when Clarkston was debating the issue, he as Mayor, the Council, and the Clarkston police were at the table together; and it was clear that the legislative and executive branches have the same policy goals.
Not so much the case in Atlanta, where the Mayor Kasim Reed Administration pushed back against the legislation.
Terry said that police officers in Clarkston had stated that they previously felt like they had to take people to jail, and that the City’s adoption of the decriminalization policy, which clarified the officer’s’ discretion, resulted in the officers being aware that they did have discretion.
Atlanta Progressive News attempted today to reach out to all eight campaigns, and succeeded in reaching four, but only two candidates were willing to make that pledge.
APN reached the Mary Norwood campaign, and spoke with her spokeswoman, but received no response regarding the question by press time.
APN reached the Peter Aman campaign, and spoke with Aman’s campaign manager, but received no response by press time.
APN sent a Facebook message to Cathy Woolard, but received no response.
APN sent a text message to Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11), but received no response. Bottoms, apparently holding a grudge, stopped responding to APN in October 2015, after we published the following Editorial:
APN called the phone number on the Mayoral campaign website for John Eaves, Chairman of Fulton County (470-558-1217), and was advised by an automated recording: “Thank you for calling Verizon Wireless. The number you have dialed has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service.”
Candidate Michael Sterling provided no phone number on his campaign website, but APN sent a message through a contact form.