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With New State Law Comes an End to Marijuana Decriminalization Efforts


With the current legislative term nearing its end, it can safely be said that the last few months have been anything but dull in the Tennessee General Assembly. Indeed, the state Senate and House of Representatives have been busy debating and voting on legislation covering everything from school bus safety and rural broadband access to road funding and school vouchers.

One of the more noteworthy measures of the session, however, was one sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) designed to address the marijuana decriminalization efforts undertaken by two of the state's largest cities.

The measure, which passed through both chambers with little opposition and was promptly signed into law by Governor Haslam just a few weeks back, calls for the following:

  • The repeal/nullification of all existing local ordinances with drug possession penalties inconsistent with those set forth under state law
  • A ban on local governments enacting their own ordinances relating to drug possession going forward

As to why state lawmakers felt compelled to advance such legislation, it was drafted in direct response to local ordinances passed by the city councils of both Nashville and Memphis seven months ago to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession.

Both ordinances essentially vested police officers with the authority to decide whether to charge someone found in possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in jail, or to instead issue a civil citation calling for a fine or community service.

Proponents of the decriminalization ordinances argued that they would enable violators to avoid a criminal record for a truly minor offense. Critics, however, argued that they not only violated the state constitution but also gave police officers too much discretion.

With Governor Haslam's signature, the seven-month experiment in Nashville and Memphis officially ended. Interestingly enough, the legislation may not make that much of a difference when you consider that statistics show Nashville Police made 1,082 state-citation arrests for marijuana possession as compared with issuing only 39 citations since the ordinance was passed.

If you are facing any manner of drug charge, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can protect your rights and best interests as soon as possible.