Right now, if you're caught with an ounce of weed in Macon-Bibb County, you could face a year of jail time or a $1,000 fine. Commissioner Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins says those arrests disproportionately affect young black males. "Right now, we feel like having someone in jail is excessive," said Watkins. The two co-sponsored an ordinance to decriminalize possession less than one ounce.
On Tuesday, Tillman asked commissioners to hold off on the vote to allow the court system and law enforcement to have their say about the ordinance. Macon Circuit District Attorney David Cooke says he supports the proposal. "My office and the sheriff's office and other law enforcement officers can concentrate on those who are a danger to your family," said Cooke.
David Cooke says it takes his office and the Solicitor General's office time to prosecute minor drug possession cases, when they should focus on more serious crimes.
In the last 3 years, the Bibb County Sheriff's Office reports made 1,206 arrests for marijuana-related arrests for under one ounce. 951 arrests included other charges, but 20 percent of arrests were made solely for possession. This ordinance would be able to help those only breaking the possession law. "If they not only possess marijuana -- they're driving while high, they're leading the police on some kind chase -- of course, we're going to prosecute that person to the full extent of the law," said Cooke.
Ultimately, it's up to the officer to decide if he wants to give a ticket because possessing marijuana is still against state law. Cooke says this would be one option to allow that 20 percent to avoid jail time, keep their job, and stay an active member of society.
Tillman says he intends to bring the proposal up for a vote on May 7th. He changed the wording of the ordinance he sponsored Tuesday to give the Solicitor General's office more discretion on how to handle the cases.