At its second and final reading today, a new ordinance to lessen penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was approved in an 8-1 vote by Savannah City Council.
Effective July 1 and only effective in the City of Savannah — no other municipalities or unincorporated areas in Chatham County — the new penalties for possession of an ounce or less will be a maximum of $150, with no arrest or jail time.
Alderman Van Johnson, who spearheaded the move, said this is not an effort to decriminalize or legalize marijuana but is a "sign of the times" that will help law enforcement focus on more serious crime and lessen what he calls disproportionate minority contact by police.
Alderman Brian Foster was the only dissenting vote and said "the law is the law" and that marijuana is still illegal under federal and state law.
Foster said the measure sends the wrong message and warns of workers not being able to pass drug tests for employment.
Johnson responded that "we invite people to Savannah to drink" all the time.
Savannah will be the third city in Georgia to adopt such a measure, after Atlanta and Clarksville. City leaders here point out that Savannah is the only city which will offer a substance abuse treatment program for those who opt into it.
In other business, City Council approved new measures to allow low-volume and/or disadvantaged local businesses to be awarded City bids if their bid is within ten percent of the low bidder.
They also voted a new Hotel Development Overlay District and to allow third-party advertising on tourist trolleys.