Legislature overrides local marijuana decriminalization

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a bill to override Nashville and Memphis city ordinances that authorized a civil penalty of $50 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Senate vote was 26-5. The House gave approval 65-28 last week. Sponsors were Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown. The bill (HB173) now goes to the governor for his expected signature.

“The last thing we need to do is create a patchwork of laws in this state regarding criminal conduct,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, in supporting the bill in a Senate floor speech.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noted the Nashville and Memphis ordinances both gave police officers discretion on when to issue a citation instead of making an arrest under state law while the bill’s language prohibits “any policy guideline or practice” by local governments on marijuana laws that is contrary to state law.

In doing so, Yarbro said, the bill with that language is effectively prohibiting officers from use of their discretion, something that is common practice statewide every day.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said the bill puts the legislature on “a slippery slope” of taking control away from local elected officials when they should be given more flexibility, not less.

Johnson countered that “the slippery slope is when we start allowing local governments to decide which laws they want to enforce and which ones they do not want to enforce.”

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