An ordinance proposed on Nov. 20 and passed in December allows people who are caught with less than one ounce of marijuana to pay a maximum fine of $500 or perform community service while avoiding jail.
The ordinance only applies to the city of Statesboro, while marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.
It is meant to accommodate youths who may be experimenting with marijuana, Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar said.
Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead said the ordinance is an acknowledgment that some people will choose to experiment and they should not suffer long-term consequences for it.
“This ordinance only applies to offenders being tried in Municipal Court, not state courts," Broadhead said. "A person cited under the state law [into state court] can still face jail time for possession of marijuana, even within the city limits.”
Since the law came into effect on Jan. 1, 10 citations have been written for possession of less than an ounce, Broadhead said.
“Three of those were 'cite and release' cases and seven were arrested. Of those seven arrests, three occurred in a single incident," Broadhead said. "Officers used the state court [arrest] option due to several factors: co-occurring charges [other criminal charges that were also charged at the time], the person didn't have valid identification, or the officer was concerned the person would not show up for court.”
In the future, using the cite and release ordinance may become the more common law enforcement practice.
“I think, over time, we will see officers using the cite and release ordinance more frequently in these instances, as they get more comfortable with that option. As with any new law or procedure, there will be a period of transition," Broadhead said.
Joe Rocheleau, a freshman political science major and vice president of Georgia Southern Young Democrats, said the ordinance is a temporary fix until cannabis is legalized nationwide.
“As for the community service, it may help a bit but it won’t be a deterrent for people who want to try,” Rocheleau said.
Eduardo Delgado, a sophomore political science major and president of GS Young Democrats, said the ordinance is the first step to a more progressive take on cannabis.
“I personally believe that Statesboro taking this step is representative of the societal desire to stop imprisoning those who do not commit violent offenses," Delgado said. "I also believe that legalization is in the near future.”
Blaine Salter, a sophomore political science major and president of GS College Republicans, said although he believes the ordinance is a progressive attitude towards marijuana use, the debate of decriminalizing marijuana will still continue.
"While this may work here in the city, I believe this debate of decriminalizing marijuana use and legalization will continue across the halls of State and Federal governments as there are valid arguments to both sides of the issue," Salter said. "I think community service will teach individuals, including college students, to appreciate the city of Statesboro and what it can offer them for personal and professional growth in addition to the university environment."
Nathan Woodruff, The George-Anne News Reporter, email@example.com