It was about a month ago that the city of Nashville made the bold decision to be the first in the state of Tennessee to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana – with a “small amount” considered to be a half ounce or less. What appears to be happening all around the country is now taking place in Tennessee; a sort of ripple effect where more and more cities will decide to make reform of marijuana laws a priority. The second Tennessee city to follow this path is Memphis, whose city council voted 7-6 to allow police officers the option of a misdemeanor citation, rather than making an arrest.
At this time, the new ordinance will not go into effect in Memphis for at least two weeks, until after the next city council meeting. The new option of a citation would come along with a $50 fine and/or 10 hours of community service – which is right on par with the ordinance in Nashville. Unlike the other ordinance, however, the one in Memphis allows the number of community service hours to increase by 10 with each offense – up to 40 hours on the fourth offense.
In comparison to the current Tennessee state law – which considers the possession of a half an ounce or less of cannabis a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines – these citations are much more reasonable. The entire idea behind these ordinances is to give non-violent offenders an option other than being arrested and sent to jail – however in certain situations police do still have the authority to make an arrest should they deem it necessary. Hopefully these officers will use this new power to make a judgement call as a way to help keep the incarceration rate for cannabis offenses down.
“We’re gonna have to coordinate with the city court clerk’s office, the city court and the city’s prosecutor’s office on how this is all gonna be handled,” Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings told the council Tuesday night.
This decision in Memphis came relatively quickly after the changes to the law in Nashville – and we can only hope that more cities throughout the state will see the positive impact made by these two decisions and will follow suit. While decriminalization is not necessarily the change we need in marijuana laws, it is definitely a start and it’s something that communities can make a decision on, without waiting on permission from the entire state. Though not everyone may agree with the changes, the most important thing is that we are not creating criminals – which is all that happens when you make arrests for things like simple marijuana possession.