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.