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Gwinnett commissioners postpone decision on decriminalizing marijuana for one month

Gwinnett County commissioners put the brakes — for now — on a proposal to eliminate jail time as a punishment for violating a county ordinance barring the use of small amounts of marijuana on Tuesday.

The county commission voted to table a proposal to “decriminalize” possession of an ounce or less of marijuana under a county ordinance until its Nov. 2 meeting. The move is designed to give county leaders more time to weigh the impact of the change to drop jail time as one of the punishments.

“After talking with my colleagues during the informal discussion (earlier Tuesday), folks just felt we needed to get more consensus from organizations or folks that would be impacted if you decriminalize small amounts of marijuana,” said Commissioner Kirkland Carden, who has been a proponent of making the change.

The proposal that is being considered is setting the punishment for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana at a $150 fine and 20 hours of community service under a county ordinance. Minors who are caught with marijuana in their possession would also have to complete a drug treatment or education program.

The big change that is being proposed is dropping the jail time part of the punishment. Carden has previously said getting caught with small amounts of marijuana after the ordinance is changed — if it is changed — would amount to getting pulled over for a traffic violation that results in a person receiving a citation.

County attorney Mike Ludwiczak told commissioners that law enforcement officers in the county would still have the option to charge offenders under the state law, which does carry a punishment that includes jail time, instead of the county ordinance if they preferred to do so.

Carden said he has received emails from residents who oppose the change as well as correspondence from residents who support it, but he believes changing the ordinance will help people who need treatment for drug abuse.

County officials have also said it helps prevent residents who make what some people could be called a mistake from having it on their record permanently.

“It should be our goal to try to keep people out of being incarcerated,” Carden said.

Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful leader Schelly Marlatt's life is a lesson in the importance of early breast cancer detection

When Schelly Marlatt was in her 20’s, she was a young woman enjoying her youth. She was not married yet and didn’t have children.

But, a self breast exam in 2000 changed everything and led to a diagnosis that has had a lasting impact on her life.

Marlatt had a form of breast cancer known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma. She was just 26 at the time, far younger than the age when women are told to begin looking for signs of breast cancer.

“I think I was in denial the entire time even though I went through the motions of going through chemotherapy, I lost my hair after three weeks — all of it,” Marlatt said. “And, you know, as a woman, losing your hair and your eyebrows and being one of the only people in our (20-something) community that has gone through anything like that, I didn’t really anybody to relate to.

“As an outgoing person, always on the go, always involved in something with my friends, I became a recluse. Something that’s not really my personality, not in my DNA.”

Marlatt is known around Gwinnett County as the executive director of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, but she is also a double breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed for a second time in 2017.

Her story is also a lesson in why it is important to not only find breast cancer early, but to also stay vigilant after it goes into remission.

“Start early because cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Marlatt said. “It doesn’t care if you’re male, female, it doesn’t matter your race, it doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter any of that. I’m huge on being vigilant about self care and self awareness and taking care of the things you need to take care of to avoid anything bad happening to to you.

“I never want anybody to experience what I had to experience.”

Marlatt had begun checking herself for breast cancer earlier than the recommended age because her grandmother had gotten it twice as well.

Because she was in her 20’s when when her first bout with cancer was discovered, it was still in Stage 1 at the time of her diagnosis and treatment. Her doctors did not want to take any chances, however.

“They said they wanted to treat me as aggressively as my body could take it to reduce my chances of it coming back,” Marlatt said.

She was put on adriamycin and cytoxan treatment for the cancer. Part of the treatment entailed having a chemical injected into her body.

“The one part of the chemo, it looked like those big, fat syringe-looking things, you know it looked like a turkey baster so to speak,” Marlatt said. “And, the lady would have to sit there and put it into my arm because if it seeped out onto my skin, it would burn a hole through my arm.

“So I called it ‘Chemo Poison.’ They didn’t like that very much. I would be like, ‘I’m here for my poison appointment.’”

Marlatt did four rounds of the chemotherapy from March to September 2000, and then followed that up with her radiation treatments.

Once her cancer went into remission, she had to go back into her oncologist once every six months for five years to make sure the cancer did not come back.

After Marlatt was treated following her initial diagnosis, she went more than a decade and a half without having to worry about cancer. During that time, she started a family and had two sons who are now 12 and 17.

She also took a job with Gwinnett County in its solid waste department, and later became Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s executive director in August 2016.

She was also heavily involved in efforts to raise money and awareness for cancer research, including working with the American Cancer Society and participating in the Gwinnett County Relay For Life, and later also participating in the Paint Gwinnett Pink relay.

“I try to be involved in anything (that supports cancer research),” Marlatt said.

During all of those changes in her life, she continued to get regular breast exams to make sure her cancer did not come back.

Then she went in for a routine exam in September 2017 and her doctors found spots that they thought could be just unimportant shadows. But a second mammogram revealed tiny spots in one of her breasts.

“The last couple of years, it was one of those ‘Hey, we see some shadows. Let’s do a recheck,’ and it would always come back fine,” Marlatt said. “Then, that time in 2017, when they did it, it was like ‘OK, we need to do a recheck. We see some shadows.’ I’m like, ‘great.’

“So they did that and then they came back and said, ‘Well, we see some little itty bitty spots,’ and I’m like, ‘great.’ So then I went for the biopsy.”

The biopsy confirmed the suspicions: Marlatt, once again, had breast cancer.

This time it was a form of cancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ and it was in the opposite breast from the one she had cancer in 17 years earlier.

“It was just kind of like ‘Man, really?’ kind of thing,” she said about what it was like to receive a second cancer diagnosis. “You go in for your annual mammograms, your annual wellness checks and those kinds of things. I would always be anxious, no matter what, because as a cancer survivor, you just never know what might crop up.”

The second diagnosis prompted Marlatt to make a choice that was not easy to make: she decided to have a double mastectomy as well as breast reconstructive surgery to try and nip breast cancer in the bud once and for all.

“After being diagnosed a second time, I thought, ‘You know what? I’m done. I’m just going to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and then be done and I don’t have to worry about it,’ “ Marlatt said.

“I kinda already made up my mind before my biopsy results came back in September, ‘Well this is what it is, then I’m doing this.’”

Marlatt can clearly remember which day she went into the hospital for her double mastectomy because it was the day after Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s Annual Governor’s Environmental Address, which is one of the organization’s biggest events of the year.

GCB’s staff usually looks forward to kicking back and relaxing for a few days after the annual address because of all of the planning that goes into staging it.

That was not a luxury Marlatt could afford given her cancer diagnosis. Although she had already made up her mind weeks in advance that she was going to do the double mastectomy, she still had concerns weighing on her mind.

“I felt more concerned and worried about my team, my GCB team and my board and all of those other people that were having to pick up my slack,” Marlatt said. “Of course, I thought I’d be back in two weeks. I think I even told them, ‘See ya in a couple of weeks.’ No. I didn’t even know my name after two weeks because they keep you so heavily medicated.”

Marlatt had to miss Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s Gwinnett Great Days of Service Clean Up that year, but she was able to attend the America Recycles Day recycling event in November, albeit in a limited capacity.

Although she is not concerned about the possibility of getting breast cancer again, she said she does try to impress upon her sons the importance of getting screened for cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time that Marlatt received her second diagnosis.

Marlatt’s former father-in-law was also diagnosed with breast cancer, illustrating the point that men can also get the disease. Her own father had prostate cancer, which is a major cancer threat for men.

“We talk about it and they’re kids, they think they’re 10-feet-tall and bullet-proof, just like we did, even when we were into our 20’s and 30’s, until something happens to you that stops you in your tracks,” Marlatt said. “It’ll be something later on in (her sons) lives, but at their annual exams, they still get checked and that kind of thing.

“But, I always push with them, ‘Get your annual mammogram.’ “

After all, Marlatt never expected to get breast cancer when she was 26.

Gwinnett schools concerned about TikTok challenge calling on students to slap teachers 'on the backside'

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Calvin Watts is warning parents about a new social media challenge calling on students to hit their teachers “on the backside.”

Watts sent a letter to parents on Monday night warning about TikTok challenges, such as the “Devious Licks” challenge that encouraged students to steal things from their schools in September. He highlighted a new challenge going around on the social media platform that calls on students to engage in behavior that Watts warned could result in sexual assault charges.

“In October, a new social media challenge has emerged, calling for students to slap a teacher on the backside,” Watts said in the letter. “Let me be very clear. Each and every person, especially each teacher, deserves our utmost respect and this behavior will not be tolerated.

“Encouraging others to strike another person is not funny. It is not appropriate to behave in this manner toward anyone, much less a teacher. In fact, it is sexual assault and will be treated as such in our school district.”

The TikTok challenges that have emerged during the current school year have not avoided Gwinnett County Public Schools. Watts said there were several GCPS students who engaged in the “Devious Licks” challenge last month.

Students who stole items from their schools as part of that challenge received disciplinary action, as well as criminal charges in at least some cases.

Watts is asking parents to talk to their children about the dangers of participating in the TikTok challenges. He also encouraged families to reach out to their schools if they need additional information about the challenges.

“One of the most important actions we can take as adults is to help our young people develop their instincts — instincts that can serve them well in the real world and in the online world,” Watts said. “Please continue to help your children understand that, while social media can help them to feel connected, not all information or people on social media can be trusted.

“Explain to them that they are responsible for their own words and actions on social media and that many of those actions may follow them for the remainder of their educational and professional careers. And, as a result, they need to realize that some behaviors encouraged on social media can get them into trouble at home, at school and even with the police.”