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Bill designating Porterdale as Drug Free Commercial Zone is well on its way

PORTERDALE -- Mayor Arline Chapman recently received word from the Georgia Legislature that the Drug Free Commercial Zone bill for Porterdale is well on its way to becoming law.

The bill was recently introduced by Rep. Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers, and has cleared the House and is on its way to the Senate where it will be introduced by Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-Locust Grove.

Once it becomes law, Porterdale will become one of only four jurisdictions in the state to take advantage of the enhanced penalties for drug violations offered through the legislation, joining Atlanta, Social Circle and College Park.

The Drug Free Commercial Zone is defined as any commercial zone within a city or municipality where there has been a high rate of drug crime. The new ordinance will classify more than 98 percent of the city of Porterdale as a drug-free zone.

Chapman said ridding the city of drugs is a matter leaders are deadly serious about and are dedicated to making it a reality.

"The Drug Free Commercial Zone bill sends a message and gives our police department and judge the opportunity to add these extra penalties," Chapman said. "We have a (drug) problem here as everybody in Newton County knows. Porterdale has a bad reputation from folks who come and go from here with rental property and in some cases with people who've been here all their lives. ... We have to make the drug problem disappear and send a message to the community and the state that these things are not going to be tolerated here and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Anyone found guilty of illegally manufacturing, distributing, dispensing or possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance or marijuana in, on, or within a drug-free commercial zone will be guilty of a felony. Punishment for the first conviction would be imprisonment for not more than 20 years or a fine of not more than $20,000 or both; or upon a second or subsequent conviction, imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than 40 years or a fine of not more than $40,000 or both. Also, they would be banished from the zone for a year as a condition of parole or probation.

Standard punishment for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, a misdemeanor, is imprisonment for up to a year or a fine not to exceed $1,000 or both. Possession in a drug-free zone would double the penalties and make it a felony.

"If we are going to be able to do the kind of things we want to here in the city, that is develop it as a recreational area for the county and as a historic district ... because we are probably the only intact mill village in the state, we have to let everybody know we are serious about this and if they want to indulge in this sort of business, let them go on and find a place that is more welcoming to them, if they can find that place," Chapman said.