Aug 2 Decrim Vote: Will Athens Clarke Set the New Standard?

What to Do: 
Pack Athens-Clarke City Hall at 6pm, Tuesday Aug 2. (301 College Avenue, Room 205)
Submit civil, constructive remarks via the County’s Online agenda comment form.
Live stream the event

Peachtree NORML’s regular monthly meeting will be canceled, to allow all available members to attend this crucial session. 

Why it Matters:
Athens Clarke County, home to the University of Georgia, is one of the poorest areas in the state, and home to just 130,000 people. But the County is currently reviewing model marijuana legislation that could make life richer for millions.

Georgia is one of 20 states where a joint can still land you in jail – state law suggests imprisonment of one year and a fine of $1000 for cannabis possession in even the smallest amounts.

But a new reform to be considered at a Tuesday, Aug 2 meeting could set a new standard for positive reform and protection of civil liberties. While marijuana would still be illegal in Athens, the punishment for possession of less than one ounce would be a $1 fine.

In June 2022, the local Legislative Review Committee (LRC), persuaded by lobbying from the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and others, opted to rewrite a local ordinance to minimize cannabis arrests. These “harm reduction ordinances” are popular tools for limiting the damage done by the War on Drugs, often by replacing arrests with civil fines (similar to parking tickets) and saving the county the cost of prosecuting an act that’s legal in most of America. 

The yet-unpassed LRC’s recommendation for Athens Clarke replaces the threat of jail time and serious fines with a fine of $1. The LRC also called on Doraville Georgia’s language limiting the definition of “marijuana” products to exclude hemp and hemp products authorized by Georgia’s Farm Bill. This would be a major improvement over current law, and while it mirrors the harm reduction ordinances in 19 other Georgia jurisdictions, represents the lowest fine ($1) anywhere to date.

But cannabis activists in the area are advocating not just for the LRC’s recommended language, but some notable improvements that could set a new standard going forward. Another option for passage, known as The Commission Defined Option (CDO), also prevents violation of the cannabis ordinances from being used as probable cause for any other crime. This would bar cops from using the scent of marijuana, real or imagined, as an excuse to search vehicles or question citizens. Given that legal hemp and illegal cannabis cannot be distinguished by scent, this reform is both common sense and overdue. 

Another promising aspect of Athens’ reform is the choice not to differentiate between preparations of cannabis. In other jurisdictions, only cannabis flower has been protected by harm reduction, while edibles, infusions, tinctures, and other cannabis-derived products have remained strictly felonious. The proposed language for Athens treats all of these preparations equally, and lumps them all in together as long as they add up to less than an ounce (28 grams) of product.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy noted in a blog post that Georgia is “one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of marijuana, and one of only 13 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.” According to reports, the District Attorney and Athens Clarke County Police already decline to pursue most misdemeanor cannabis charges.

Athens Clarke County has a chance to lead the way.