Savannah City Council passes ordinance to lessen marijuana possession penalties

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah City Council voted to lessen the penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession on Thursday.

After the changes, the misdemeanor will no longer be a mandatory arrest. Instead, the first offense will be a $150 fine and a ticket.

Savannah is now the third city in the state to decriminalize marijuana. This does not legalize marijuana. It simply lowers the punishment. In a word, Alderman Van Johnson said he's relieved.

It passed in an 8 to 1 vote. Alderman Brian Foster is the only one who voted against the measure. Surprisingly, there wasn't much discussion, as everyone seemed on board. They were more hesitant during the first reading.

Johnson is clear that this vote does not legalize or condone marijuana use. His main reasoning for bringing this up is because he says it's important to address the disproportionate amount of black males arrested for the crime.

"Until we have a criminal justice system that it equal and sees people equally and administers the law equally, then we have to do what we can to remedy those kinds of problems," Johnson said.

One reason Foster voted against the measure is that marijuana is illegal. Another is he's afraid of the message it sends to people who may take advantage of the law.

"The message that we would be sending as a city is that this is a drug city and that you need to come to Savannah to buy your marijuana and smoke it here," Foster said.

The change will go into effect on July 1. It only applies to the city of Savannah, not anywhere else in Chatham County.

You can read the complete ordinance below:

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