Clarkston Working To Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Brenna Beech / WABE

The mayor of the city of Clarkston in DeKalb County wants to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The plan is to make the penalty for holding an ounce or less of marijuana a municipal court fine.

Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry says he has kept an eye on medical cannabis and decriminalization efforts in the legislative session.

“Unfortunately none of those bills got a proper hearing or got a full floor vote,” Terry said. “And so this is in the spirit of laboratories of democracy and exercising our home rule power that the Georgia Constitution gives cities and counties.”

He says he and city council members are still working out the exact details, but they’re tossing around the idea of a $5 ticket. No arrest necessary.

“The bottom line that we understand is that the war on drugs has been a failure, and that the judicial system should be about serving justice,” said Terry, who added that giving people life-long criminal records for low-level, non-violent drug offenses is not, in his opinion, just.

A similar attempt at decriminalization in Athens, Georgia was derailed after County Attorney Bill Berryman weighed in saying state law trumps any local ordinance.

But Terry says Clarkston’s city attorney has already OK’d the ordinance in principle, based on a Georgia statute that gives cities “concurrent jurisdiction” with state law regarding these low-level marijuana possession charges.

WABE legal analyst Page Pate says, sure, the city has that right:

“But they can’t undo state law. So at the end of the day, if a state prosecutor in DeKalb county wants to send someone to jail for possessing marijuana, they can do that regardless of the ordinance in Clarkston.”

He says whether or not they’d be interested in doing that would be the true test of the ordinance.

“I really don’t think there’s going to be any move in DeKalb County to send anybody to jail for simple possession of marijuana,” said Pate. “So it may work in this instance, if the people in DeKalb County decide not to prosecute these cases.”

Terry says he’s already heard from critics of decriminalization who have interpreted it to mean free reign for those who want to smoke marijuana in Clarkston. But he says selling drugs, possession while committing other crimes and possession of other illicit drugs will not be tolerated.

Terry says hopefully an ordinance could be ready for a council vote by May.

For now, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana in Clarkston, like in the rest of the state of Georgia, can still result in up to a year of jail time and a $1,000 fine.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is considering reclassifying cannabis to a category other than Schedule 1, its strictest grouping. A downgrade would lift some barriers to clinical testing.