ATLANTA, Ga. (Nov. 16, 2017) – Last month, the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana within the city limits, a step toward effectively nullifying prohibition in practice.
Councilman Kwanza Hall sponsored the ordinance. The legislation reduces the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a $75 fine. Instead of taking people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana to jail, Atlanta police will simply issue a citation.
Hall said enforcement of stringent marijuana laws has caused significant harm.
“It has ruined lives. It has caused students to lose their scholarships.It has torn families apart. It’s made people unemployable, in our city, in our state, in our nation.”
On Oct. 2, the council approved the ordinance by a 15-0 vote.
The ordinance only applies within the Atlanta city limits. State law imposes much harsher penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession, with a 6-month jail term and fine of up to $1,000.
The City of Savannah will likely consider a similar ordinance in the near-future. According to the Savannah Morning News, Alderman Van Johnson announced his intention to reduce the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana possession. His proposal will reportedly lower the fine to $150 and eliminate any jail time for possession of 1 ounce or less.
Impact on State and Federal Prohibition
County and city decriminalization efforts represent a kind of local version of the anti-commandeering doctrine.
The Supreme Court has long held that the federal government cannot force states to assist with implementation of enforcement of federal acts or programs. When states refuse to cooperate with federal enforcement, it makes it extremely difficult for the feds to assert their will. This has proved particularly true when it comes to marijuana. State legalization of weed and the end of state enforcement nullifies federal prohibition in practice. FBI statistics reveal law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. The federal government simply lacks the resources to enforce its marijuana laws on its own. We’ve seen this play out in every state that has legalized marijuana for medical or general use.
Strategically, this kind of local action can have an impact at the state level in the same way state action has impacted the feds. If enough cities and counties in Georgia decriminalize marijuana, it could conceivably nullify state law. at least to some degree. As more and more political subdivisions implement similar policies, it will expand the “market” for marijuana and increase pressure to change the law at the state level. When the state decriminalizes marijuana, it will nullify federal prohibition in effect, just as it has in other states.
This is a powerful strategy we can use to rein in federal overreach with a total bottom-up approach, starting at the local level, and then working up through the state, ultimately eroding federal power completely away.