Pubdate: Fri, 28 Aug 2020 Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA) Copyright: 2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Contact: http://www.ajc.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/28 Author: Adrianne Murchison DISAGREEMENT ON DECRIMINALIZATION Johns Creek officials disagreed on decriminalization of marijuana during a Monday meeting. City Council members opposed to a reduced penalty for simple possession said they were concerned that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs. Council members Chris Coughlin, Erin Elwood and Stephanie Endres proposed that a person in possession of less than one ounce of cannabis face no jail time and a fine of not more than $75. The current fine for simple possession is up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Elwood argued that officials opposed to a change in the city's ordinance were making a moral decision and not a legal one. The proposed change to the law would not legalize the drug. Georgia law doesn't allow cities or counties to legalize possession of marijuana. Elwood said decriminalization of the drug would lower the number of interactions between residents and police officers. "I think this is a time when we're all looking at criminal justice and policing in terms of how can we do better," Elwood said. The punishment for possession of marijuana is disproportionate for people of color. Mayor Mike Bodker and opposing council members said they preferred to trust the city solicitor and judges with cases that include marijuana possession. Family experiences played a role in positions for and against the measure. Coughlin said his father purchased marijuana out of state to help with physical pain and mental trauma that he has had since serving in the Vietnam War. Councilman Lenny Zaprowski said a cousin, who died from drug abuse, started on the path with marijuana. "I'm probably too jaded to vote yes," he said. Coughlin proposed the decriminalization initiative in 2017. He said he didn't pursue it more aggressively then because of a likely veto from Bodker. The mayor again said he wouldn't support decriminalization for reasons similar to Zaprowski, adding that he believes the responsibility to change the law lies with the state. Other municipalities have begun to change their laws concerning small amounts of marijuana. Clarkston was the first Georgia city to pass a similar ordinance in 2016. Doraville passed a new ordinance earlier in August. Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta-Richmond County and Macon-Bibb County are among the large local governments that have passed local decriminalization ordinances.