If one Savannah City alderman gets his way, the punishment for possessing pot in our city will become just a petty crime.
Last week, after consulting with the City Manager, City Attorney and Chief of Police, Alderman Van Johnson announce his plan to reduce the penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
His plan mirrors a similar one that was just passed by the City of Atlanta. A key difference being Atlanta completely decriminalized possession of pot, no matter how many times you’re caught. Alderman Johnson’s plan calls for fines initially but could lead to jail for repeat offenders.
Johnson says with his plan, it gives those who make mistakes an opportunity to learn and grow, without leaving a mark on a person’s record that could follow them for life and prevent them from getting jobs.
Consider this: There are two reasons why City Council should approve this plan. First of all, this addresses the large disparity in the number of African Americans who go to jail for pot possession versus whites.
While marijuana use among whites and blacks is equal, according to the Racial Justice Action Center in Atlanta, 92 percent of those arrested between 2014 and 2016 were black.
And the second reason Johnson’s proposal makes senses, and maybe even doesn’t go far enough, is the amount of time and money spent by law enforcement getting pot off our streets. A reduced effort on cracking down on pot will allow our police and the judicial system to focus on issues and crimes of major consequence, including our ever-growing and ever worsening opioid epidemic.
In about six weeks, Savannah City Council will vote on the alderman’s proposal, and they should all vote “yes” without reservation, as it is high time we stop using this vice as an acceptable form of racial profiling and fighting the wrong fight in the war on drugs.
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