by Hayley Mason

Advocates fight to decriminalize marijuana in Georgia

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) — Eleven states have decided to make marijuana legal so far. Georgia is not one of them.

But, advocates here are hoping a bill coming up in the U.S. Congress will make it legal nationwide and reform the criminal justice system.

Sharon Ravert didn’t know much about marijuana laws until a SWAT team came to her door and arrested her daughter for cannabis.

“A lot of us get involved because our children or people we know have been arrested and it can ruin their lives,” Ravert told CBS46’s Hayley Mason.

The mother turned to activism and began testifying at the state Capitol on marijuana decriminalization. She became the founding director of Peachtree, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws works between Atlanta and Washington DC to try to pass the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act” also called the MORE Act out of Congress.

The sweeping bill would decriminalize marijuana, impose a 5% tax on cannabis products, and “establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses,” among other things.

“The MORE Act has been written quite frankly by a lot of my colleagues, and I have been pushing to get more people in Georgia to co-sponsor it that are up in Washington DC,” Ravert said.

In Metro Atlanta, Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside was one of the first prosecutors in the country to stop prosecuting small marijuana cases once hemp became legal.

“My intent was to be constitutionally fair and just because you cannot tell the difference between marijuana and hemp due to THC levels,” Whiteside told Mason. “It’s more efficient for the court system because basically you’re not tied down with minor crimes that are actually legal in other states.”

Since last summer, Gwinnett has dismissed 248 marijuana cases. The Fulton County Solicitor General’s office has been doing the same, diverting 100% of their marijuana cases.

“Marijuana, quite frankly, especially misdemeanor amounts, have become so much less of a priority,” said Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage.

Also, the arrests are inconsistent depending on race. The ACLU’s latest research report found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than White people to be arrested for marijuana possession—despite similar usage rates across the races.

“It was simply pointing out what is going on,” Ravert said about the racial data on marijuana arrests. “It is focused on young Black men, people of color, and those neighborhoods, and it is an easy way to get people into the criminal justice center and it’s disgusting. It’s a way of picking winners and losers.”

Supporters are optimistic the bill may pass the Democrat-led House, but not the Senate. At a campaign event in Atlanta Thursday, U.S. Congressman Doug Collins, R-Collins, told CBS46 he plans to vote no on the MORE Act.

“This is not the right move at this time,” Collins told Mason. “It goes way too far in many areas and its including things that we have not actually studied in Congress. How do we look at our laws and are they being fairly applied is something that we need to talk about, but you don’t need to do it in a bill like this which is not being moved forward,” he continued.

Ravert says she is planning to run for state office to amplify her voice on this issue.

Each supporter said they do not want marijuana more accessible to children. They believe making it legal will regulate it and take it off of the streets to eventually lower crime.

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