Taking a cue from the city of Atlanta, Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy wants to reduce the penalty for possession of “small amounts” of marijuana to a fine with no jail time.
The term-limited District 1 commissioner did not return calls seeking comment. He attached to his agenda item for the Augusta Commission Public Safety Committee’s Tuesday meeting a copy of Atlanta’s new ordinance, which reduces the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a $75 fine.
In an attached news release, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says the ordinance change addresses the disproportionate number of young, people of color and low-income residents who are jailed for possession. Reed, who had the power to veto the Atlanta City Council decision, signed it into law Oct. 11, though possession remains illegal under state law.
Changing local law may not be as simple for Augusta’s consolidated government, however.
Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta, has pushed to decriminalize possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana statewide. His Senate Bill 105 made it to the Rules committee last spring.
“I’m not sure we’re capable of doing it,” Jones said. “Cities, without a doubt, yes. Consolidated counties, I cannot say we actually have that power.”
Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, credited Jones with “opening the conversation” about reduced penalties statewide.
“Law enforcement is going to be a lot more watchful in the quantity they collect,” Howard said.
Though several commissioners met with him Monday, Fennoy’s colleagues in Augusta government said they had little or no knowledge of his agenda item, which they received last week.
“Didn’t know he had a bill,” Mayor Hardie Davis said.
“I don’t have enough information at this time,” said Commissioner Ben Hasan.
“The best thing to do is listen to the sheriff’s office,” Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said.
“There’s been no discussion,” Commissioner Sean Frantom said.
Calls to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office were not returned Monday.
Commissioner Dennis Williams said he hopes to learn more Tuesday about a change that “makes a lot of sense” to him.
“Sometimes a person is given a harsh prison sentence for just a small amount of marijuana,” Williams said.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.