In exactly six weeks, Savannah will be the third city in Georgia to remove mandatory arrest as a consequence for first time marijuana offenses. Instead, first-time offenders found with an ounce or less of marijuana will pay a $150 fine and receive a ticket.

Some people have speculated that the passing encourages people to smoke marijuana, but Alderman Van Johnson, who authored and presented the bill to the Savannah City Council, disagrees.

“The ordinance does not change state law — marijuana is still illegal in Georgia,” Johnson said. “It is still a misdemeanor, if you get caught you may still be arrested… you may still appear in court.  Saying that this ordinance encourages smoking marijuana is like saying that seeing food makes people hungry.  It is a choice and with choices come consequences.”

Alderman Johnson said he brought in the ordinance with the intention of helping minority communities who are disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests.

According to the ACLU, African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white Americans, while both races report using the drug at similar rates. Anyone arrested for marijuana possession is handicapped in many employment opportunities and can hinder access to financial aid for students.

The ordinance also lightens Savannah law enforcement’s workload by reducing the average 1,238 hours spent annually on marijuana arrests. This frees police officers to pursue more serious offenses in the Savannah community, Alderman Johnson explained.

This in turn filters out hundreds of non-violent crimes from Savannah’s court system. The tickets will add revenue to the city as well.

Johnson believes this is a step in the right direction that shows Savannah can be progressive.

“Marijuana is a contemporary issue, and while this is does not make marijuana use legal, it does prevent the destruction of young lives because of a singular joint,” Johnson said.

Will this alter any of SCAD’s policies? SCAD bars the possession, use or even being under the influence in public of alcohol or drugs, regardless of age. Violating SCAD’s code of conduct in this regard could result in a conduct hearing, eviction from SCAD residence halls and other disciplinary action.

“SCAD is committed to a program that discourages the illegal use and abuse of alcohol and controlled substances by students and employees,” said John Buckovich, vice president of university safety. “The new ordinance will not impact SCAD’s drug policy or the enforcement of that policy.”

By Kelsey Sanchez