Council rethinks new bar and marijuana regulations

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

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The LaGrange City Council has foregone some of the more stringent bar and marijuana regulations that were proposed in the wake of the violent incidents on the night of Nov. 3.

Several violent incidents occurred throughout that night starting at the LaGrange-Troup football game where play was temporarily stopped when crowds fled Callaway Stadium after hearing what some thought were gunshots. Police say some of that crowd then moved to the downtown area, causing even more trouble. After officers were eventually able to disperse an unruly crowd outside the bars downtown, police say crowds then went to an event center on Daniel Street where a murder occurred.

In response to the incidents, the county and LaGrange College have banned tailgating outside Callaway Stadium and the city council proposed a slew of new regulations targeting bars and marijuana.

On Dec. 19, first readings were held for ordinances that would modify regulations on brown bagging establishments to regulate them similarly to traditional pouring locations, allow police to temporarily close down Class B alcoholic beverage locations for up to 24 hours for public safety at the police chief’s discretion and modify pouring hours to end at midnight and force bars to close by 1 a.m. 

Additionally, a security ordinance was read that would have required bars to employ two POST-certified officers as security from 10 p.m. to close on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, utilize wand or walk-through metal detectors depending on their size and have security video covering entrances.

The council has also read an ordinance amendment at the suggestion of the LaGrange Police Department that would increase the civil penalties for small amounts of marijuana. Currently, LPD officers can cite people with a civil charge of simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, which incurs a $100 fine, no jail time and it does not go on the offender’s criminal record. LPD suggested modifying the civil fine to $250 and subsequent offenses within five years would incur a $500 fine.

Because 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. LPD policy is to use the civil charge in cases where offenders are otherwise not breaking the law or causing a disturbance, but as Councilman Mark Mitchell pointed out, deputies and state troopers are under no obligation to use the civil charge rather than the state law. 

After repeated discussions throughout December and hearing from businesses in the downtown area, the council made several changes to the original proposed ordinances. 

Substitute ordinances were introduced for two of the proposed ordinances that were first read at the previous council meeting on Dec. 19. 

The ordinance giving the police chief the authority to shut down a bar for 24 hours was lowered to 12 hours. Chief Garrett Fiveash noted during the morning work session that it was never their intention to close an establishment for more than one day and only serious incidents would warrant closure.

The requirement for two POST-certified officers as security was also stricken from the security ordinance, as well as the requirement to utilize walk-through metal detectors for larger bars. Bars will still be required to wand patrons to check for weapons and have security video of entrances and exits.

Both substitute ordinances were unanimously approved.

The only ordinance that was approved with no changes was the brown bagging ordinance. The amendment to modify regulations that will require brown bagging establishments to get a license similar to traditional Class B pouring locations was unanimously approved.

The amendment to modify the civil penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana received a second reading, but the ordinance failed for lack of a motion to approve or deny.

The amendment to modify the hours of operation of Class 3 pouring establishments failed with Councilmen Mitchell and Jim Arrington voting in favor and Councilmen Leon Childs, Quay Boddie and Nathan Gaskins voting in opposition.