Harm Reduction – A Pleasant Surprise

One of the main planks in Peachtree NORML’s platform is Harm Reduction.  Georgia’s Draconian marijuana laws place a heavy burden on those charged with possession of marijuana.  An arrest creates a criminal record which follows an individual for a lifetime and can lead to the loss of jobs and educational benefits.  Fines and private probation fees add to the burden.  Factor in that the arrest leads to a suspension of one’s driver’s license, preventing one from getting back and forth to work, and the burden becomes heavier.  That is until July 1st, 2016.

Over the past few days, I was contacted by several folks asking me if Georgia Law had changed.  Some had received notices from the Department of Driver Services (DDS).  Others had gone to Drug Assessment classes and been told to check with DDS.  ALL HAD THEIR LICENSES REINSTATED.  Of course, this prompted me to try and contact DDS, a task about as easy as flapping your arms and flying.  After listening to a barrage of instructions about which prompt to select I heard “SB367” and hung up.

This past Legislative Session, while we were sending out emails and making phone calls about every piece of marijuana legislation we could find, a Bill that wasn’t even on our radar was passed.  Senators John Kennedy of the 18th, Butch Miller of the 49th, Mike Dugan of the 30th, Burt Jones of the 25th, Greg Kirk of the 13th, Hunter Hill of the 6th, and Representative Chuck Efstration of the 104th sponsored SB367, “A BILL to be entitled an Act to provide for comprehensive reform for offenders entering, proceeding through, and leaving the criminal justice system so as to promote an offender’s successful reentry into society, benefit the public, and enact reforms recommended by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes”.  NORMLy when I see the words “reform for offenders” in a Bill I cringe, wondering what penalties or other requirements have been added to a law.  This time, I was elated to see the cringe, at least in part, was unnecessary.  As I read the Bill I saw that all wording relating to “possession of a controlled substance or marijuana” had been stricken.  The Bill passed and went into effect 1 July 2016.

To make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I called my local Probate Court and asked the specific question “Is Georgia no longer suspending driver’s licenses for Possession of Marijuana?”  The answer was “No, they are not”.

HALLELUJA, AMEN!!!  Finally, some sensible legislation regarding Possession of Marijuana and a “giant leap” for Harm Reduction.  Not only are they not suspending, it seems they are reinstating the licenses of those who had them suspended for a possession charge.  If you fall into that category, I suggest visiting your nearest DDS service center or visiting their website at https://online.dds.ga.gov/dlstatus/default.aspx

I also suggest contacting the Legislators I mentioned above and thanking them for taking a step in the right direction.  While I’m not sure I’m happy with most of the rest of the Bill, that’s for another blog and I’ll take anything we can get that is positive for Harm Reduction.  You can find their contact information at http://www.senate.ga.gov/senators/en-US/SenateMembersList.aspx  

If you would care to read SB367 (an 84-page document) you can find it here http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/162432.pdf    

I’m the eternal optimist.  I know that #pressingthefight and by #whenwearetalkingwearewinning, things will change.  I’m going to take this good news as an indication that a sea-change is coming in Georgia regarding sensible marijuana legislation.  Have a Hempy Day, y’all!