AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Augusta moves closer to changing the way marijuana gets punished.
Commissioners voted to ease the restrictions on small amounts of marijuana.
This vote helps with the prosecution of more serious cases, easing the workload so that offenses such as DUIs get more attention, according to State Court Solicitor Omeeka Loggins. It also helps to give some people a bit of freedom.
“We don’t want consequences that are going to put them in a worse position and quite frankly affect all of us taxpayers,” Loggins told us. “We want them to be able to keep their jobs and do what they need to do.”
Augusta Commissioners voted unanimously to ease the punishment connected to marijuana offenses. The move reduces jail time from 60 days to none for people 21 and older. Solicitor Loggins said this clears local jails.
“Also, it clears out the jails so we will have more space for the people who we deem really need to go to jail, the more heinous and serious crimes,” she said. “Also, it takes a load off probation. Everyone knows that probation gets overloaded and this helps to divert some things.”
The vote amends city code. Loggins said those ordinances are addressed in magistrate court, not state court where she presides. In addition to no jail time, fines are reduced from $1,000 to $150 for the first two offenses. But it goes up for additional ones.
District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams weighed in and said, “You don’t want to encourage people to do that, but at the same time the jails are full. Some people have a small amount of marijuana. Some people, young people even seniors may have tried it one time.”
John Clarke, District 10 Commissioner added, “If you put everybody in jail that use marijuana regularly or recreationally, you wouldn’t have a whole lot of people left walking on the street.”
Marijuana remains illegal. The ordinance change impacts under an ounce and does not mean the plant will be decriminalized or legal, something that can only be done on the state level. But some are open to both.
“I support the measure right now, moving forward,” said Brandon Garrett, District 8 Commissioner. “And even in the future if Georgia decides to legalize marijuana, I think that’s kind of the way it’s moving across the country so we will definitely see how this plays out.”
Georgia State Senator Harold Jones pointed to 11 other jurisdictions in Georgia that are doing the same thing.
“Macon-Bibb was probably the most recent one,” Sen. Jones told NewsChannel 6. “I think south Fulton and Macon-Bibb probably did it around the same time. Fulton County has also done it.”
He also said it really is a stretch to say this moves us closer to legalization or decriminalizing marijuana, something he has been fighting for on the state level. He said making statewide penalty changes has been difficult.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps