Lawmakers in Memphis, Tennessee, otherwise known as the soul of the south, are one step closer to eliminating the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession.
On Tuesday, a proposed ordinance seeking to decriminalize up to a half-ounce of marijuana within the city limits received initial approval from the Memphis City Council. The proposal, which was brought to the table by Councilman Berlin Boyd, now advances to the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee for further consideration.
“Memphis is taking a first step toward saner drug laws,” attorney Doak Patton, President of Tennessee NORML, said in a statement to MERRY JANE. “The ordinance was crafted after the Nashville ordinance, but they have included a provision to allow officer discretion. We oppose this but the police chief opposes even this small step.”
It is no secret that Tennessee is not exactly a pillar of marijuana reform. As it stands, anyone caught with as much as a half-ounce of weed can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in prison and a $250 fine. It is a policy that some Memphis lawmakers are eager to change for the city, and they are prepared to move forward with the issue despite the resistance from local law enforcement.
“Remember, we are the lawmakers,” Boyd declared during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Police are the law enforcement agency. “We make the laws. We were elected to legislate…I want to make a difference in the lives of poor African Americans in this city. This is something we can [use to] change the dynamics of overcrowding in jails and bottlenecking the courts with passed and minimal cases.”
The latest data from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that blacks are being arrested at a rate of four times more than whites all over the nation.
Nevertheless, Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings said he would never support the ordinance because “it negatively affects a person’s ability to get a job and to maintain a job.”
Rallings told the council that he wants to wait and see how a similar measure plays out in Nashville.
“I find it hard to believe an African American police chief can not see what is good for the community in Memphis,” Patton told MJ. “We ask him to just listen to the people of Memphis and see times are changing.”
The proposed ordinance will be heard again in two weeks.