In Georgia this week, he Atlanta City Council took a historic step when it voted unanimously to stop jailing people for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana! Following the vote, Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted that he will sign the ordinance into law.
Once the measure is in effect, a person caught with one ounce or less of marijuana in the city would face a maximum fine of just $75 and no jail time under city law. Unfortunately, state law would not change, so it is possible that local law enforcement could still arrest under the harsher state penalties. This is also the case on college and university campuses, which may or may not change policy.
In other words, advocates should remain vigilant to ensure the spirit of the law is respected.
For the measure’s sponsor, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, the change is about fairness in Atlanta’s criminal justice system. Shockingly, 92 percent of those arrested for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in the city of Atlanta are African-American, even though they make up just over half the resident population in the city. This change to the law is a welcome one.
You can read the text of the measure adopted by the city council here.
If you are a Georgia resident, please let your state lawmakers know that you want them to follow Atlanta’s lead and stop arresting marijuana consumers.
Four years after 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed by Atlanta narcotics officers who falsified evidence before and after a completely unwarranted raid on her home, the city of Atlanta has announced it will pay a $4.9 million settlement to her family.
In November 2006, officers conducted a “no knock” raid on Johnston’s home based on bogus information from an informant who said he had purchased drugs there. (After the raid, the informant told a local news station that he had never even been to Johnston's home, and that police asked him to fabricate the story after the shooting.)
Johnston, who lived alone, apparently mistook the plainclothes officers for intruders and, according to the prosecutor trying the officers, fired one shot through the door and hit nothing. The police responded, firing 39 shots, killing Johnston and apparently wounding three of their own.
Investigators did not find any evidence that drugs were being sold in the apartment. In an apparent attempt to fabricate a cover story, one of the officers, J.R. Smith, planted three bags of marijuana in the home, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan.
The raid made national headlines, and the three officers involved eventually plead guilty to federal charges including conspiracy, voluntary manslaughter and making false statements. They are currently serving sentences in federal prison.
"The resolution of this case is an important step in the healing process for the city and its residents," Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed said in a statement yesterday. "As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions. In addition, the narcotics unit of the Atlanta Police Department was completely reorganized, which included changes in policy and personnel."
Unfortunately, raids like the one on Kathryn Johnston’s home continue to occur every day in places all over the country. Some compensation for Johnston’s family is a good start to repairing the damage, but a much more appropriate legacy for this highly-publicized tragedy would be for officials nationwide to realize that in a free society, armed officers shouldn’t be sent on missions to break down doors and potentially use violence in order to enforce nonviolent drug offenses.