The Savannah City Council on Thursday voted 8-1 to approve a proposal by Alderman Van Johnson to reduce penalties for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Alderman Brian Foster cast the sole vote against the ordinance.
Under the ordinance, first-time offenders caught for simple possession can be issued a $150 citation, rather than be arrested, while any subsequent citations would be determined by the court. Twenty percent of the fine revenue would be designated by the city toward a drug treatment facility or program.
Johnson said he was motivated to develop the ordinance as a way to spare many young people arrest records that make it difficult to obtain employment, housing and attend school. In addition, he said the ordinance would help address a disparity in which blacks across the country are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate almost four times that of whites, despite little difference in pot usage rates.
The vote came after former Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin and interim Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew voiced support in January for the ordinance, which would give officers the option of fining individuals caught with less than one ounce of pot instead of taking them to jail.
The ordinance is expected to become effective in July.