ATLANTA — April 20 marks the unofficial day to recognize marijuana usage across the country.
Those who are advocating for the legalization of the drug are also encouraging a change in local and state laws.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln has learned that Gwinnett County could be one of the next to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
One local group is traveling city by city across the state to encourage them to do just that.
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Gwinnett County currently has a proposal that, if passed, would stop people caught carrying a small amount of marijuana would not be put in jail and would instead face a fine.
Ryan Ralston, the Executive Director for Norml’s Georgia chapter, says these so-called harm reduction ordinances can help reverse stiff penalties.
“Rather than citing me, and sending me to jail under the state statute, it can write me the citation under the harm reduction ordinance and, basically, it’s a civil penalty,” he said.
Norml focuses on a city-by-city initiative to get municipalities to enforce their harm-reduction ordinance.
Offenders in cities or counties that have not decriminalized an ounce or less of marijuana would face a $1,000 fine and a year in jail, under state law. With “harm-reduction” sentencing, the same offender could avoid jail and pay as little as $75.
So far, 17 cities and counties across Georgia, including Atlanta, Clarkston, the City of South Fulton and Cobb County.
Gwinnett County commissioners say they are currently at a standstill over a similar bill and need more information to move forward with.
Not everyone agrees, however. Representative Ed Setzler says the stiff penalties should stay and marijuana should not be legalized.
“It’s not something that Georgia needs, and I think that any sober, honest look at that would be convincing to folks who’ve done their homework and studied how dangerous this could be,” Setzler told Lincoln over the phone.
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For those who do not use marijuana, having this ordinance in play could free up taxpayer dollars that would have been used to try their cases.
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