On April 20, Delaware State University’s female lacrosse team was traveling back from end-of-season games in Florida. While driving on I-95 North outside of Savannah, the team’s bus was pulled over for driving in the left lane on the interstate. Delaware State is a Historically Black University, and the driver and most of the students were Black.
A deputy was recorded saying, “There's a bunch of dang schoolgirls on the truck. Probably some weed.” With no probable cause, local police brought in a drug-sniffing dog and searched student bags that were stored under the bus. The 45-minute stop and search, which involved male officers rifling through the young women’s underwear and menstrual products, found no contraband and resulted in no arrests or citations. One of the student athletes wrote about the incident.
This isn’t the first time Georgia law enforcement has traumatized dozens of innocent Black young people in pursuit of marijuana convictions.
On New Year’s Eve 2017 in the city of Cartersville, Georgia, police entered an apartment where there was a party without a warrant and found under an ounce of cannabis. They proceeded to arrest all 64 people at the party, all of whom, except nine, were people of color. They were held for between one and three days in the county jail in extremely overcrowded cells. The case was eventually dismissed, and the City of Cartersville agreed to pay $900,000 in damages.
Until the Georgia General Assembly removes criminal penalties for cannabis, humiliating and intrusive searches and life-altering cannabis arrests will continue in large numbers. Researchers have found that traffic searches disproportionately target Black Americans, despite the fact that they are less likely to result in contraband than searches of white drivers. Black individuals are also three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis in Georgia compared to white people, despite similar use rates.
Yet, the Georgia General Assembly has refused to make sensible changes to its cannabis laws. Decriminalizing cannabis can reduce the damage that these laws inflict on otherwise law-abiding citizens. The supposed smell of cannabis is the most common pretext to search a vehicle. Legalization has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of traffic searches.
Over 30 states have decriminalized or legalized cannabis. Let your legislators know it is past time for Georgia to join the majority of the country in decriminalizing or legalizing personal amounts of cannabis.