Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said his department averages five to 10 marijuana citations a year, but he expects that number to increase after the recent passage of the marijuana depenalization ordinance.
The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, or TACO, set the fines and fees for misdemeanor marijuana citations to $0. The ordinance passed with 77 percent of the vote during the November election, and went into effect Sunday, five days after the Athens County Board of Elections certified the election results.
Supporters of the ordinance said it would decrease citations by removing the incentive for local police to enforce marijuana laws. Pyle disagrees. He thinks students will smoke more marijuana under the false belief that the new ordinance legalized weed, and that they will argue when his officers tell them to stop.
“I think a lot more people will be smoking marijuana in open public places, expecting that it’s legal,” Pyle said. “And when our officers confront them and say, ‘You can’t do that here,’ I think they’re going to get arguments: ‘Oh yes it is (legal), TACO,’ and our officers are going to be forced to cite them.”
Marijuana enforcement has not been a priority for APD, and individual officers have discretion to decide whether to cite people they find in violation of marijuana laws. Pyle has said that officers’ decisions to cite or not to cite often rest on the behavior of the people they encounter. If the ordinance causes more residents to argue with officers, it therefore might increase citations.
Pyle doesn’t plan to ask officers to stop enforcing marijuana laws.
“It’s still illegal,” he said.
Although misdemeanor marijuana citations won’t result in fines anymore, they could still come with consequences. Students convicted of drug offenses, including misdemeanor marijuana offenses, could risk losing their federal financial aid.