About thirty activists from around the State of Georgia gathered in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood on Saturday, May 07, 2011, to rally for marijuana policy reform. The rally began at Freedom Park and ended up in Findley Plaza.

Atlanta was one of many cities which participated in the Worldwide Cannabis March. Activists held signs including, “Free the Weed,” “Hemp, Hemp, Hooray,” and “Get Wise, Legalize.” As motorists drove by, many of them honked their horns in support.

Paul Cornwell, one of the leaders of the movement to legalize marijuana here in Georgia, helped organize the march and rally, and obtained a permit from the City of Atlanta.

“We want the right to smoke pot! Yeah, that’s right! Pot!” Cornwell shouted.

Speakers at the rally at Findley Plaza included Cornwell, Al Herman of the Georgia chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, and the Rt. Reverend Greg Davis.

“I’m with Georgia for Cannabis. We’re a new activist organization here in Georgia looking to bring about legalization to the world’s most popular plant. We have three focus areas, of medical marijuana, decriminalization, and industrial hemp,” Harry Petree, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, said in a video interview with Artemis Productions, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

“We’ve even gone to the point of having the Georgia Compassionate Health Care Act, written up, ready to go into the next legislative session in January,” he said, holding up a bound copy.

“We’re out today… to educate people, to let ‘em know, it’s okay, that this plant is something God has given us. It can help us both mentally, and spiritually, and physically,” he said. “We’re out here to bring the message to the people, that it’s all right, that cannabis is not the evil thing they’ve been led to believe,” he said.

One attendee at the rally, Jonathon Weaver, 25, said that he was arrested a couple years ago for marijuana possession, and that when he got out of jail he told his mother, “They just arrested the wrong pot head.”

Weaver–who had never been politically active before–went on to become a legalization advocate and organized last year’s marijuana policy reform rally in November 2010 at the Georgia State Capitol. A similar rally is planned for November of this year.

The movement for marijuana policy reform continues to make advances across the country. Earlier this month, Delaware became the sixteenth US state to legalize medical marijuana, joining fifteen other states in addition to Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis filed a federal lawsuit to compel the US Drug Enforcement Agency to end its unreasonable delay in responding to a petition filed October 09, 2002, which seeks for the US DEA to reschedule marijuana, from a Schedule I drug to another category under the Controlled Substances Act; this would federally recognize that marijuana has medical value.

In addition, a bipartisan coalition of Members of US Congress reintroduced legislation this week seeking various policy reforms.

On May 25, 2011, US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced legislation to reschedule marijuana, which has been co-sponsored by US Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Pete Stark (D-CA). Other legislation would provide for small business tax exemptions for medical marijuana dispensaries.

As previously reported by APN, Georgia is set to begin clinical trials to study the efficacy of marijuana for medicinal purposes, based on a law that sat dormant on the books since the 1980′s and is only being implemented this year.

Cornwell has spent countless hours of several decades working towards the cause. In an interview with Atlanta Progressive News, Cornwell says he has had many accomplishments over the years, and he has been in marches all over the US.

Paul was involved in an impromptu 1970 march, that was held in Athens, at the University of Georgia Law Center. In Atlanta, Cornwell states that “1978 was the first big marijuana festival… I also helped to organize the one thousand person ‘smoke in’ that was held at Hurt Park.”

“In 1988, the march had grown, and US Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) spoke at the event, amongst others,” Cornwell said.

“In 1989, the name was changed to the Great Atlanta Pot Festival, and was moved to Piedmont Park. None of these events were easy to coordinate,” Cornwell said.

“We have been to court several times, to protect our right to free speech, and one of our first lawsuits was with the City of Atlanta, when Major Bill Campbell was in office,” Cornwell said.

“The lawsuit helped to change the laws for festivals, so that the March could still happen, that is why the name was changed to Atlanta Pot Festival,” Cornwell said.

“To protect our right to protest and continue our fight to legalize marijuana, we organized numerous demonstrations at the Capitol, at least seven to date. This July 4th, will be the 42nd ‘smoke-in’ festival,” Cornwell said.

“The Bill of Rights, allows us the right to choose our own medicine, and the Bible allows us the right to all green plants that have seeds. Even if we do not agree that everyone should smoke pot, that does not mean that pot should be illegal, and that those that are sick or depressed should be deprived of their right to choose their own medication,” he said.

As possession of marijuana is currently illegal in the State of Georgia, the legal consequences can be quite steep.
A first offense of possession, less than one ounce, typically leads to probation with no fine.

A second offense of possession, less than one ounce, is still considered a misdemeanor. Under Georgia law, an individual can face up to 1,000 dollars in fines and up to one year in prison.

If caught with more than one ounce of marijuana, an individual can face a felony charge, between one and ten years in prison, and a variable fine.

If caught within 1,000 feet of a school or other designated areas, an individual can face up to twenty years in jail and up to 40,000 dollars in fines, even for a first offense.

But the consequences do not always end there. One eighteen year-old male told APN his personal story in an interview, although he was granted anonymity to prevent further damage to his future.

The individual was caught earlier this year with a few of his school buddies at a park, smoking ‘spice,’ a synthetic legal marijuana, and had residue of marijuana in a pipe they were using. The cops pulled up, and they were arrested for loitering in a park, and later, for possession of marijuana.

Because their private school has a strict no drug policy, their graduation from high school is in jeopardy. A private school can decide not to let someone graduate because of any charges related to drugs; this can have horrid effects on their future.

“It was awful,” he said. “People don’t think that once you are taken away, you are treated like an animal, thrown in a police car, with no cushions, handcuffed, finger-printed, and even if you are found to be not guilty, your mug shot is now public record, and posted for the world to see,” he said.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, and at least one leading Republican legislator have made it clear that they believe that arresting and imprisoning individuals for marijuana is a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars; and they are seeking a revamp of Georgia’s sentencing policies and practices.