New marijuana ordinance gives younger people a second chance

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah Police now have the ability to decide what happens if you're caught with less than an ounce of pot.

This ordinance is about options. Officers now have the ability to issue a citation of up to $150 instead of an arrest. However, police can still take you to jail if they choose.

Alderman Van Johnson introduced this idea to Savannah City Council after the city of Atlanta passed a similar ordinance in October. A main push was for the future of youth and to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system and avoiding the enduring stigma associated therewith.

"We've all done things that we wish we had thought better of when we got older and have come into ourselves and kind of realized we could have made smarter choices," Johnson said. "We're trying not to crucify people for the rest of their lives for a mistake they've made."

Former SCAD student, Sean Geng, was in college when an officer pulled him over and arrested him for less than an ounce of marijuana.

"I was processed, questioned, and just thrown in jail," Geng said. "I was feeling taken advantage of by the legal system in many ways that I don't think an average American citizen should be taken advantage of."

Geng is not alone. He knows an abundance of other kids whose futures are a little less bright from one mistake.

"Getting arrested and having that on their record affects their ability to get a job. It really just derails their entire life," he said.

Savannah Police agree and want to keep kids out of the system. They also want to make it clear, this ordinance is a city ordinance.

"If you're in the county, the county did not pass this ordinance. So outside of the city, the only option the officer has it to take you to jail. What we have now, is we have an option: to take you to jail or write you a ticket," said Assistant Police Chief, Robert Gavin.

As Geng reflects on the night that turned his world upside down, he asks law enforcement to use this discretion in a positive way.

"In my mind, I was really personally hurt. I would ask that people give leeway and consideration to the impact arresting youth could have on their future," he said.

This ordinance does not go into effect until July 1.

City of Savannah Police want to remind the community that the police department is still required by law to arrest citizens with any amount of marijuana until then.

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