Tennessee has now taken a stance against local efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. Last year, both Nashville and Tennessee made the bold decision to allow police the discretion to decide when and if someone deserves to be charged and arrested for marijuana possession, instead giving law enforcement the option of issuing a civil citation that would be accompanied by a fine or community service hours.
It wasn’t long after Memphis announced the passage of their decriminalization ordinance that the state Attorney General stepped in with his official opinion on the matter, claiming that under state law these ordinances were not allowed because they came in direct conflict with state law. Although he never said that the state was planning to take action to put a stop to these ordinances, he did suggest that the cities may not want to move forward with implementing their new decriminalization efforts.
This was the first time these local lawmakers’ efforts were threatened – and in Memphis it meant the decision not to move forward with the ordinance, instead leaving simple possession of small amounts of cannabis as a criminal offense with arrest, jail time and fines. Nashville instead decided to go ahead with their decriminalization efforts until they were forced to do otherwise – but that might have encouraged the bill that has now been passed by legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.
The bill was introduced early in February and would put an end to this – making local ordinances such as this one irrelevant and useless. There were many people who argued both for and against the bill, most in favor using the excuse that they don’t believe a “patchwork of laws” across the state is the way to go when it comes to possession cases. Those arguing against it say that taking that kind of decision making away from local governments is unfair, and they also cited the reasons for supporting the decriminalization ordinances in the first place.
“Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate, if we prevent cities from taking action in this area, we can rest assured that there will be more Tennesseans that are in prison on terms that are out of proportion with their crime,” Senator Lee Harris told fellow lawmakers during debate.
Unfortunately the bill has passed and now only awaits the governor’s signature before becoming law. Even more unfortunate is that it is likely to be signed into law in some backward effort to “protect” the citizens of the state, when all it really does is ensure that a lot of innocent people end up behind bars over a plant.