Marijuana reform may not be on the ballot in Tennessee on Election Day, but the state is making strides in changing their cannabis laws nonetheless. On Tuesday, Memphis set a new ordinance in place to decriminalize pot in certain instances, becoming the second city in the state to lower possession penalties, according to reports. The new law will allow officers the option to issue fines or community service to people in possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In a 7-6 vote, city officials passed the new measure granting police the authority to issue citations to those in possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana with $50 fines Violators could be ordered to serve 10 hours of community service instead. After the first violation, an additional 10 hours of community service per offense up to 40 hours will be mandated. However, police still have the option to charge offenders with a Class A misdemeanor, meaning people caught with weed can still be punished with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Marijuana is still considered illegal in Tennessee, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement. But he noted the new ordinance would provide for less harsh punishments for non-violent offenders, which was the whole premise behind the City Council’s decision to implement the new measure.
John Marek, the president of the Memphis chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told local media the new bill will positively impact the community and make better use of Memphis' resources now that officers won't have to spend as much time in court "over a substance that's safer than nutmeg."
Following the ordinance’s injunction, Chief Operations Officer Doug McGowen said officials will start to discuss what needs to happen to prep City Court for the extra caseloads that may come with police officers issuing smaller citations.
Memphis’ decriminalization ordinance comes almost a month after Nashville’s Metro Council approved a similar bill allowing police officers to issue $50 fines and community service to those found with a half-ounce or less of marijuana.