Recently Tennessee’s two largest cities (Nashville and Memphis) voted to decriminalize possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana. The votes were extremely significant, as reform is not easy to achieve in a state like Tennessee. Currently possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana in Tennessee is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $250 fine.
The new city laws in Nashville and Memphis give officers the option to issue a $50 ticket instead of making an arrest when they find someone possessing up to a half ounce of marijuana. There is already talk of Tennessee’s next two largest cities, Chattanooga and Knoxville, following the same path as Nashville and Memphis in decriminalizing marijuana possession. That has led to at least one Tennessee Representative expressing that he intends to introduce a statewide measure to decriminalize. Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis, who represents Tennessee House District 98, recently published an op-ed in The Commercial Appeal, excerpts of which can be found below:
Memphis is the largest city in the state of Tennessee. We have a representative form of government. The City Council members are the chosen representatives of the people, which means “the people of Memphis have spoken.”
With this decision, coming on the heels of the overwhelming Metro Nashville Council vote to also decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, it sends a powerful statement to legislators across the state as to the wishes of Tennesseans.
While the ordinances passed allow for civil penalties and/or community service, there is still the issue of the citing officer deciding what course of action will be taken.
The officer can arrest the individual in possession or he can simply cite the individual with a $50 fine. We have to pay close attention to make sure that this is being carried out in a fair and equitable manner.
As a state legislator, it is my intent to present legislation that will support the ordinances of the cities while giving citizens the ability to avoid incarceration.
I was curious to see if the State of Tennessee would stand in the way of implementation of marijuana decriminalization in Memphis and Nashville. With Representative Parkinson’s support, I’m hopeful that won’t happen. The State of Kansas sued to block decriminalization implementation in Wichita, so I was leery that we would see something similar in Tennessee. I think the fact that officers can still enforce state law rather than city code plays a big part in that in Tennessee. Hopefully Representative Parkinson’s legislation will make decriminalization the law of the land, and take away the option for officer to arrest.
image via Tennessee Public Radio