It just got a lot less intense for anyone caught with marijuana in Atlanta. But while the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously (15-0) to pass legislation that will severely knock possession penalties down a few notches, there is still some confusion as to what’s legal and what is not.
Until now, the punishment for getting caught with marijuana (any amount) did not fit the crime. The offense was punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. Now, the punishment is no jail time at all and a maximum fine of $75 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Related Story: Atlanta Votes Unanimously To Lessen Marijuana Penalties
But even with the new law, those in possession can still face jail time or a higher fine. Here are 8 important facts you should know if you plan to light up in Georgia’s capital.
1. While it is still illegal to sell or possess even a minuscule amount of marijuana, this is a step in the right direction for decriminalizing marijuana. Advocates hope that by changing the law in Atlanta, other jurisdictions, even the entire state of Georgia, will change their laws, too.
2. The decriminalization of marijuana in Atlanta doesn’t mean you can buy, grow or sell weed. It just means that possession of the drug doesn’t come with automatic jail time.
3. Georgia state law still punishes those in possession of any amount of marijuana with a steep fine and up to six months and jail, so anyone can be punished under the existing state law. However, it’s up to the police officer to decide when to enforce the city ordinance or the state law, even if you’re in Atlanta.
4. Ultimately, it’s up to the courts to rule on whether or not, and how to prosecute someone charged with possession
5. Don’t expect Atlanta police to enforce the state law without a really good reason.Carlos Campos, the director of public affairs for the Atlanta Police Department, tells Atlanta Magazine:
At the Atlanta Police Department, the focus is on violent crime and crimes that truly affect people—things that endanger lives. We’re not out there looking to drag people to jail for smoking a joint or having a small bag of weed. We want to fill jails with armed robbers, rapists, burglars, home invaders—we do not want to fill the jails with pot smokers. That’s the bottom line.
But don’t get cocky about it. Walking round with weed, a pipe or a joint is still a crime.
6. There is no difference between getting caught smoking weed and having it on your person, in your pocket or otherwise.
7. The overwhelming number of marijuana-related arrests in Atlanta are African Americans( 92%) , despite studies that show usage is pretty consistent across racial demographics.