Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed a bill on Wednesday that decriminalizes the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, making a once jailable offense a $75 fine. According to Fortune, 92% of people arrested for marijuana between 2014-2016 were Black. This does not mean, however, that the majority of people who use marijuana are Black, just that the people who are arrested for it are Black.

That being said, Atlanta’s decision to decriminalize marijuana fits into a larger pattern of cities independently choosing to make the laws a little laxer; however, it should be noted that decriminalization does not make it completely legal.

Additionally, outside the city limits of Atlanta, the state punishment for possession includes a six-month jail term and a 1,000 dollar fine.

According to the University of Georgia’s School of Law, there are forty cities across America that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana, yet legalization has to be the penultimate goal of these movements because decriminalization only means a fine, but if that fine goes unpaid, it could still mean jail time.

Atlanta highlights a growing tension between the cities which have decriminalized marijuana and the states which still demand a stiff punishment for possession, a tension which is only made worse when you compare punishments such as the state of Georgia’s to the city of Atlanta’s.

Decriminalization is a good first step, but cities and states are eventually going to be asked to do more. We can only hope that their answers align with the benefits of Black people within their borders.

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