Gwinnett County commissioners voted to hold off on making a final decision about a proposed change to a county ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana on Tuesday.
The proposed change, which would have meant a person who possessed an ounce or less of marijuana could avoid going to jail for the crime, was initially rejected by commissioners in a 3-2 vote, but the board then voted 3-2 to table the issue until early December.
Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson and Commissioner Jasper Watkins voted against making the change and against postponing a final decision. Commission Vice-Chairwoman Marlene Fosque voted against making the change, but did vote to postpone a final decision on the matter.
“I don’t think data supports the need to make changes,” said Hendrickson, who anticipates voting against the proposal next month as well. “I also don’t want to send the message — send the wrong message — that Gwinnett County is condoning marijuana use, or possession.
“I just presented a proclamation recognizing Red Ribbon Week last week, discouraging youth from drug use, and so — in my conscience and as a former prevention advocate and professional — I personally could not vote in favor of this.”
The change in the county ordinance regarding marijuana possession has been touted by Commissioner Kirkland Carden, the leading proponent for the change, as a way to give police options on what to do with people who possess only small amounts of marijuana.
Under the new county ordinance, a person who is caught by Gwinnett police in unincorporated parts of the county could receive a citation and be required to pay a $150 fine and perform 20 hours of community service.
Minors who are found to be in possession of marijuana would also have to complete a drug treatment or education program.
Police would have the option to charge a person under the county ordinance, or the state law on marijuana possession, which does require an arrest and has a sentence that includes jail time.
One argument made in support of the change is that reducing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a citation, instead of arresting them, is that it would allow county police to spend more time focusing on addressing other crimes. Police currently have to arrest a person who possesses an ounce or less of marijuana and take them to the county jail to be booked, which is a process that can take the officer out of the field for a couple of hours.
Carden and Commissioner Ben Ku were the only commissioners who voted in favor of changing the ordinance.
“It’s unfortunate,” Carden said of the 3-2 vote against making the proposed change. “When you put a lot of time and energy and research into anything, especially public policy, you definitely want to see that come to fruition.
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get it passed, but we’ll take one more poke at it and try to see if we can address some of my colleagues concerns as to what they have with the ordinance, and see if we can find three votes from there.”
The Gwinnett Police Citizens Advisory Board recommended approval of the ordinance change earlier this year.