Memphis is on its way to become the second city in Tennessee to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession.
On Tuesday, the Memphis City Council passed an ordinance in a narrow vote of 7-to-6, which is designed give the Memphis Police Department the option of handling those people caught in possession with up to a half ounce of marijuana with a simple $50 fine rather than dragging them to jail.
Nashville passed a similar ordinance last month.
Unfortunately, Memphis police will still have the right to arrest people for this crime by leaning on state law. As it stands, anyone in Tennessee caught in possession of up to a half ounce of weed can be penalized to the tune of up to a year in jail and fines reaching $2,500.
In other cities where similar ordinances have been passed, police officers typical take into consideration a person’s criminal record and whether or not a violent crime was the catalyst leading up to the discover of marijuana in determining who gets a ticket and who goes to jail.
But even if the Memphis ordinance goes the distance, getting signed into law by Mayor Jim Strickland, there is a relatively good chance that nothing much will change in the city streets with respect to petty pot possession. That’s because MPD director Michael Rallings does not support the ordinance – he hasn’t since the measure was first introduced – and has vowed to direct his officers to continue busting marijuana offenders under the rules of the state.
Councilman Berlin Boyd, the man who brought the proposal to the table, told the council last night that the ordinance would save the city and state money while allowing law enforcement to focus resources on more serious crimes.
“In 2010, approximately 42 percent of drug arrests were for marijuana possession, costing the state almost $43 million,” Boyd said. “We recognize it is a definite problem and will ultimately save taxpayers’ money, and it is something we feel will benefit the citizens of Memphis.”
So far, Mayor Strickland has not said whether he intends to sign the ordinance, but he did give some indication that the measure would receive some serious consideration.
“I support the intent of this ordinance -- to less severely punish non-violent offenders," Strickland said in a statement. "The City Council’s debate, though, did not answer several important questions."