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Atlanta Decriminalizes Marijuana

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The Atlanta City Council voted on Oct. 2 to decriminalize marijuana.

The new ordinance, which passed unanimously by a vote of 15 to 0, will reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a $75 fine and no jail time, reports WGCL.

Under current Atlanta law, possession of marijuana can result in six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall first introduced the measure in March. "In Atlanta and in Fulton County, 92 percent of the arrests for small amounts of marijuana are the arrests of African-Americans. That is the most biased rate of arrests in the country," Hall told WGCL.

In April, Mayor Kasim Reed said he was conflicted about the debate, explaining that although he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, he acknowledges that the current law disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color.

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When Hall was asked if the new ordinance would increase his popularity, he replied: "There's nothing wrong with doing your job, and this is something we didn't start a few weeks ago, we started last year."

In 2016, Nashville's city council passed a measure that reduced penalties for possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana, reports Newsweek. Many Nashville residents, including the mayor, enthusiastically backed the new measure.

Pittsburgh's city council also decriminalized marijuana. Under the new law, police can issue a $100 fine to people possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, replacing the old policy of jail time and heavy fines.

In Washington, D.C., adults may possess 2 ounces of marijuana or less, grow up to six marijuana plants in their own homes, and gift small amounts of marijuana to one another.

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As defined by the marijuana advocacy group NORML, decriminalization is the "removal of all penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including cultivation for personal use."

NORML notes that more than 25 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas where marijuana has been decriminalized, yet there has not been an significant increase in marijuana consumption.

The states that have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana possession are Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

In contrast to decriminalization, NORML defines legalization as a "legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers can buy marijuana for personal use from a safe legal source."

Legalization has been adopted by voters in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Marijuana has been used by nearly 100 million Americans, according to NORML. The advocacy group cites government surveys showing that about 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 14 million do so regularly.

Marijuana has caused no known deaths, while alcohol kills about 50,000 people annually, and tobacco kills more than 400,000 annually, says NORML.

Sources: WGCL, NORML (2), Newsweek / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Pixabay (2)

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