As the City of Savannah looks to implement its new marijuana law, one thing is being made clear by neighboring agencies — the city and its officers will be the only agency to enforce this new ordinance.
On Thursday, City Council voted 8-1 to lessen the penalties for simple possession of the illegal drug.
Led by Alderman Van Johnson, the proposal states if someone is caught within the city limits of Savannah with less than an ounce of the illegal drug, the officer has the ability, at his or her own discretion, to fine the person $150 with no jail time added.
Currently, the law states there can be a maximum of one year in jail.
Johnson fought for a change on the local level saying it would save law enforcement time and resources and keep minority youth out of the prison system. The ordinance passed and it is set to take effect July 1.
On Friday, WSAV spoke to local activists about their reaction to the passage of the ordinance.
“A lot of time in our communities, I’m speaking for the African American community, a lot of our young men, I know that a lot of them smoke marijuana and they are the ones who are incarcerated, they are the ones who don’t have the funds, or the monies to pay the lawyers so they can get out,” Savannah President of the National Action Network Alicia Blakely said. She says she was excited for Thursday’s vote and appreciates the opportunities young men of color might have because of this new law. “They will be able to get jobs, they will be able to have a life, okay? Before, with them having to go to jail, they couldn’t have a life, they couldn’t have jobs,” she said. “Don’t hold that against them for the rest of their lives.”
Founder of LB4 and After Foundation Linda Wilder-Bryan also supports the ordinance’s passage. “I hope it will allow our young adults to see that we are for them. It doesn’t not condone selling, smoking or planting marijuana,” she said. “That was not the intent.” She says it will allow law enforcement officers to focus on major crime investigation instead of soft crime pursuits. “That’s five hours that they could have dedicated to, like I said, trying to find our rapists, our robbers, our homicides,” she said.
The nest step in the process is to train officers on to how to use discretion to determine who to fine and who to jail.
WSAV-TV dug deeper to find which law enforcement agencies will be implementing this new law within city limits.
Georgia State Patrol will not change its policies telling WSAV-TV it doesn’t enforce local ordinances. Its focus is on state law.
So if a GSP officer catches someone with less than an ounce of marijuana inside Savannah city limits, it would be a route arrest of simple possession. There would not be an option for an officer to administer only the $150 fine.
The same code of conduct is set to continue with Chatham County Police Department and the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department.
Both agencies say they are bound to the state constitution and state laws saying implementing the local ordinance “isn’t an option,” even if they are patrolling or answering a call within city limits.
When the law goes in later this summer, only a Savannah Police officer at his or her discretion would be able to administer the $150 fine for simple possession.