“I ask my colleagues to support this because I can think of no better way to reduce our jail population than by asking officers to issue citations rather than arrest warrants for these individuals,” District 5 Fulton County Commissioner Marvin S. Arrington Jr. said of a proposed county ordinance that would carry fines instead of jail time for individuals caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in their possession in that part of the county, the only unincorporated area left in Fulton.
Individuals arrested elsewhere in the county would be subject to that city’s ordinance or the state law and whatever punishment that goes with it, depending on whether he or she was arrested by a Georgia State Patrol officer or a local municipality’s officer, since the officer would have the right to choose either one, county spokesman Darryl Carver said.
Arrington co-sponsored the legislation along with Commission Chair Robb Pitts, District 4 Commissioner Natalie Hall and District 2 Commissioner and Vice Chair Bob Ellis.
At its meeting Wednesday at the county government complex in downtown Atlanta, the board voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance. District 6 Commissioner Emma Darnell opposed it, and District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann and District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris abstained.
The new ordinance, which took effect immediately after the board’s approval, states those found guilty of a misdemeanor offense of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana may be prosecuted by enforcement measures other than incarceration and be offered a civil penalty of a $75 fine for all first-time offenders. A second offense would carry a mandatory minimum fine of $150, with the third and fourth infractions fines of $300 and $450, respectively.
All subsequent offenses would carry a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and may also include some incarceration. Violators under 21 who are found guilty of five or more subsequent offenses must also appear in court and may be ordered to undergo drug treatment.
In addressing the commission, Arrington said this is part of a larger criminal justice reform movement, not only in Georgia but nationwide.
“Issuing citations rather than arrest and imprisonment is also a humanitarian issue as well, because we need to treat people more humane and this is a way to do that,” he said.
Morris said he was “torn” by the ordinance because it applied only to the Fulton Industrial District, which is the only area in which the commission has direct jurisdiction.
“The police are sworn to uphold state law, which does not call for a mere $75 citation,” Morris said.
“However, they do have the discretion to cite someone rather than arrest them, but I feel the police would take the position that marijuana possession is still a state law violation and the individual would need to be arrested.”
Fulton is not the first metro Atlanta municipality to reform its marijuana possession ordinance recently by favoring fines over incarceration. The cities of Atlanta and South Fulton passed similar laws in October and March, respectively, and the city of Clarkston approved an even more liberal ordinance in 2016.