Gwinnett County commissioners are discussing the possibility of using a county ordinance to reduce the punishment someone could face for possessing small amounts of marijuana, including eliminating jail time.
Commissioner Kirkland Carden pitched the idea of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana to his colleagues on Tuesday. It doesn’t make marijuana legal, but rather the idea is to target possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, allowing police to issue a citation rather than arresting the person and taking them to jail, which can take the officer off the streets for several hours.
“This came from a conversation I had with (County Administration Glenn Stephens) when we were talking about the monetary and personnel burdens that are put on our law enforcement officers by having, let’s say someone is caught with a joint, to process (the arrested person),” Carden told the other commissioners. “They’ve got to drive down 316 in rush hour, they sit maybe two or three hours in booking to go through that whole process when other municipalities in Georgia, and across the country, have moved to just giving somebody a ticket and keeping it moving.”
The proposed ordinance resolution, which Carden said he had already discussed with fellow Commissioner Ben Ku, would give law enforcement the option to issue a citation that carries a $150 fine or require up to one year of community service.
The proposed ordinance will be sent to the newly created Police Citizens Advisory Board for review before the commission takes it up for a vote.
County Attorney Mike Ludwickzak said the county’s ordinance on marijuana currently states a person has to spend a year in jail or face a fine of up to $1,000 — or possibly both — if they are convicted.
It would not supersede state law, which carries a stiffer punishment, however.
“There is a state law they can be charged under as well,” the county attorney said. “If you reduce these penalties, and say somebody is involved in a serious accident, or there’s other crimes associated with it, they can still be charged under state law as opposed to this.
“This would really just be a standalone charge.”
Ludwickzak also said state law would not necessarily supersede the county ordinance.
“We have the option right now to charge under state law or charge under our county ordinance,” he said.
Commissioner Jasper Watkins expressed concerns about the fairness of implementing the ordinance since it would not apply to someone who recently began serving a sentence on marijuana possession. Since they are already convicted and sentenced, their existing sentence could not be altered by a change in local ordinance.
“That’s a hard bill,” Watkins said. “You have person that’s in there and that met the standard and now you’re telling them they’re in their third month ... and they have to stay.”