By Dan Hayes, News Editor
At Thursday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting the council voted 8-1 to approve Alderman Van Johnson’s hotly debated marijuana ordinance which will lessen the penalty for the simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Alderman Brian Foster was the lone dissenting vote.
The new ordinance, scheduled to take effect July 1st, will give an arresting officer the discretion to cite an individual with simple possession of marijuana, which carries a fine of $150. Previously, that individual would have been arrested and taken to jail.
Twenty percent of the marijuana fines collected will go towards funding a city sponsored drug treatment program.
Alderman Foster had “to respectfully disagree, marijuana is illegal federally and in the state of Georgia and all 8 municipalities of this county for a reason.”
“The message that we would be sending as a city is that this is a drug center and that you need to come to Savannah and buy your marijuana and smoke it here”, said Foster.
Alderman Johnson does not believe that is the case responding that “this is in no way an attempt to legalize marijuana.” Johnson added, “ this is an opportunity to increase positive outcomes in employment, education and housing…it certainly also addresses inequities in our criminal justice system.”
Alderman Johnson is referring to the fact that the number of arrests and convictions for marijuana related charges is disproportionally higher within minority communities, although drug use appears to be equal regardless of race.
“Just because we’re a historic city does not mean we need to think historically,” said Johnson.
The approval of the ordinance was met with cheers from citizens attending the meeting. After passage, Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Bell wanted to remind the council that she is working with the Police Chief on a technical assistance grant to look at “pre-arrest diversions for other misdemeanors as well as marijuana.” Bell added, “for those of you who are so passionate about this and helping our young people, remember that when we come back at the end of this grant.”
St. Patrick’s Day
In a move that surprised no one, the council unanimously approved the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee’s request for a parade permit. The parade will take place in Downtown Savannah on Saturday March 17th.
Parade Grand Marshal, Michael Kenny, and many other members of the committee were present to accept the request approval.
Alderman Van Johnson joked, “what if we just didn’t” approve the request? Johnson was proudly wearing his emerald green sport coat.
In other council news,
- A new Hotel overlay district map, designating where and what size hotels can be built in the historic district, was approved. Alderman Tony Thomas was the sole dissenting vote on both motions.
- Tour bus vehicles will now be allowed to display advertising depicting local tourist attractions on the rear of their vehicles.
- The city purchasing ordinance was amended to give preference to local, women, or minority owned firms. A local firm can win a city bid if they are within 7 percent of the lowest bid, women and minority owned firms can win the bid if they are within 10 percent of the lowest bid.