Marijuana decriminalization is not a new concept. My home state, Oregon, was the first to decriminalize marijuana in the 1970’s. Since then many other states have followed suit. There are also a lot of cities and towns across America that have decided to decriminalize personal marijuana possession. As I always say, decriminalization isn’t as good as legalization, but it’s much better than outright prohibition.
The cities of Nashville and Memphis recently passed marijuana decriminalization measures. Both measures were passed by their respective city councils, and both gave officers the discretion to issue a civil citation rather than arrest someone and charge them with a crime when they are caught with marijuana. Law enforcement in those cities would also still have the option of arresting someone when they are caught with marijuana, which is something that didn’t sit well with activists, as it will likely lead to unequal enforcement. Unfortunately, the Tennessee Attorney General has come out this week saying that the entire measures are invalid because they violate Tennessee state law. Per Tennessen:
Laws passed this year by Nashville and Memphis that gave police discretion to hand out lighter civil citations for possession of small amounts of marijuana violate state statute and therefore can’t stand, according to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery.
Slatery issued that opinion on Wednesday, arguing that Tennessee’s two largest cities are pre-empted by multiple state laws on the issue — one that addresses drug control and another on the powers of district attorneys — making the ordinances unenforceable.
“A municipal ordinance that attempts to regulate a field that is regulated by state statute cannot stand if it is contradictory to state law,” he wrote.
I’d be curious to know if there are any other provisions that have been passed at the city or county level in Tennessee that do not line up with Tennessee state law. I would have to assume there is at least one example out there, but because it doesn’t involve marijuana, it has never been an issue. I’d imagine a legal showdown is brewing, although the odds of the cities winning and the State of Tennessee losing are not good if history is any indication. A similar measure was passed in Wichita, Kansas, the measure was shot down by the Kansas Attorney General, the dispute went to court, and the State of Kansas prevailed. Sadly, I would assume the same thing will likely happen in Tennessee, but anything is possible I suppose.