Council to vote on potential new bar and marijuana regulations

Published 9:41 am Saturday, December 23, 2023

The LaGrange City Council has proposed several new ordinances and ordinance amendments to impose more stringent regulations on bars and marijuana.

The potential changes stem from a series of incidents on the night of Nov. 3 where crowds started at the LaGrange-Troup football game, moved to Downtown LaGrange and later to an event center on Daniel Street where a murder occurred.

Because of the incidents, the county and LaGrange College are no longer allowing tailgating outside Callaway Stadium and the city is considering further regulations targeting bars.

First readings were held on Tuesday for five potential ordinances or amendments to address violence downtown. Whether any of them are ultimately approved is still up in the air, as the council was unable to come to a consensus on the majority of the potential changes.

BROWN BAGGING

The first of the ordinances would modify regulations on brown bagging establishments to regulate them similarly to traditional pouring locations. Brown bagging establishments allow patrons to bring their own alcohol to consume at the location but do not provide it.

The ordinance in essence would treat brown bagging establishments like a Class B (pouring) alcohol establishment, which would require them to apply for a license and get through a background check. The license can be revoked if there are continued violations of law on the premises.

The change would also limit hours similar to Class B locations.

TEMPORARY CLOSURE

The city has also proposed an ordinance that would allow the chief of police to temporarily close a location holding a Class B alcoholic beverage license.

The proposed ordinance would allow the LaGrange police chief to have the discretion to close a bar up to 24 hours due to serious incidents where crowds interrupt public safety or traffic. Police believe the ordinance will allow them to better disburse unruly crowds at the establishments if they are forced to leave or are not allowed to reenter the business.

LPD Major Dale Strickland said the locations would likely only be shut down for a few hours until they normally close as the incidents typically happen late at night and would not affect the following day.

SECURITY

A proposed amendment to the current alcoholic beverage code would require a trio of additional security changes.

Certain Class B license holders would be required to employ POST-certified officers as security.

Bars with a capacity of under 100 patrons would be required to utilize wand-style metal detectors to check entrants for weapons and larger bars would be required to have walk-through metal detectors. Bars would also be required to have security video covering entrances.

Several council members voiced concerns about the POST-certified security requirement, noting that it could potentially hurt the businesses if they are unable to get officers as security, especially with the current shortage.

Representatives from the downtown bars also noted that Troup County sheriff’s deputies are not allowed to work off-duty security for locations that primarily sell alcohol, which was confirmed by TCSO.

HOURS

The council will also consider an ordinance that suggested by Councilman Mark Mitchell that would limit the hours of bars.

The proposed ordinance would require bars to stop serving alcohol at midnight and close by 1 a.m. Mitchell suggested that the requirement should apply to brown bagging establishments as well.

MARIJUANA

The council has also proposed an amendment to modify the civil penalties of small amounts of marijuana.

The change would increase the fine for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from $100 to $250. Subsequent offenses within five years would incur a $500 fine.

As marijuana is still criminally illegal under state law, police can still charge offenders with the more serious state offense at their discretion. The criminal charge can carry up to a $1,000 fine and jail time. Strickland noted that if the officers are investigating a criminal complaint, the policy is to use the state charge but in most cases where offenders aren’t otherwise breaking the law they can receive the civil citation, which doesn’t go on criminal records.