Gwinnett County commissioners are poised to take jail time off the table as a punishment for violating a county ordinance that prohibits possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The county commission will vote on a resolution to “decriminalize” possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The ordinance would still prohibit it, but, under the revision, cases would be sent to Recorder’s Court instead of one of the higher courts.
The effort to move in this direction has been a pet project of Commissioner Kirkland Carden.
“It’s just (up to) an ounce ... which I learned in this process is a lot of marijuana,” Carden said. “Anything more than that, you may not be using it recreationally. You may be doing something, you know, more nefarious like selling or trafficking it.”
The vote by county commissioners on marijuana possession comes nearly five months after the Gwinnett Police Citizens Advisory Board voted in May to recommend the change to Gwinnett County Ordinance 66.3. The board finalized the language of its recommendation to commissioners in June.
The big change that is being proposed is the punishment for marijuana possession.
A person who is caught possessing less than an ounce of marijuana would face a fine of up to $150 and up to 20 hours of community service. Minors who are caught possessing marijuana would also be required to go trough a drug treatment program or drug education class.
Jail time would not be a sentencing option for a person charged under the county ordinance.
“The purpose of the ordinance amendment is to save valuable resources by reducing the amount of time officer spend in connection with the arrest, processing and transportation of those persons accused solely of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana,” Deputy County Attorney Tuwanda Rush Williams wrote in a memo to commissioners.
“In addition, adoption of this ordinance amendment has the further benefit of preventing people, including youth at a pivotal time in their lives, from entering the criminal justice system and being burdened by the stigma associated with such criminal history.”
The decriminalization is considered a way to give law enforcement one of two ways to punish someone who is arrested with an ounce or less of marijuana. Police will have the option of charging someone under the county ordinance, or under the state law that deals with marijuana possession.
State law still classifies marijuana possession, even if it is a small amount, as a crime that carries a jail sentence. Police will not be bound to charge someone under the county ordinance if they do not want to.
Carden said that will let law enforcement continue to have an option to hold someone who they do not believe should be let go with a citation.
“Let’s say you’re running a serious investigation and you want this person (held) on some serious charges so you can get them in an interrogation room or you just want to get them off the street, if all we have is the marijuana charge then we’ll roll under that (using the state law),” he said. “We’ll use that as a way to bring them in and talk to them.
“But, for your typical person, a young person on the street with a joint and a bong, we won’t apply the state law. The state law is still the law of the land. This is just a county ordinance which will be decided in Recorder’s Court.”