Tennessee Lawmaker Wants to Nullify Local Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinances

NASHVILLE, TN — A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill in the Tennessee legislature to prevent local communities from relaxing local marijuana laws — and to nullify those ordinances that have already been passed in the state’s two largest cities.

State Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), a former Assistant District Attorney for Sumner County, filed House Bill 173 this week.

The intent of the bill is to override and nullify ordinances passed in the state’s two largest cities — Memphis and Nashville — that were passed late last year to partially decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The ordinances passed in both cities give local police the option of issuing $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana, instead of arresting and prosecuting an offender.  Under state law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500.

In November, the state’s Office of the Attorney General wrote an opinion stating that the ordinances were unenforceable because they conflict with state drug laws.  The opinion reads:

“[T]he ordinance[s] cannot stand because [they] impede the inherent discretion and responsibility of district attorneys general to prosecute violations of the Drug Control Act.”

House Bill 173, if passed, would ban other cities from enacting similar measures:

“No county, city, town, municipality, or metropolitan form of government has the authority by ordinance, resolution, regulation, or other local law to enact or adopt a sanction for conduct involving a drug or other substance if the sanction for that conduct is established … as a criminal offense other than a Class C misdemeanor.”

The bill would also nullify the ordinances already enacted in Nashville and Memphis:

“Any ordinance, resolution, regulation, or other local law enacted or adopted prior to the effective date of this act regulating drugs and other substances that is inconsistent with this part … is superseded and repealed. Any policy, guideline, or practice of any agency, department, or employee of a county, city, town, municipality, or metropolitan form of government that regulates or permits the enforcement of conduct covered by this subsection in a manner inconsistent with state law is void. “

Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee, and is home to over 654,000 people, making it the largest city in the state.  Memphis comes in close as the state’s second largest city with a population of 653,450.

Tennessee residents can contact their representatives and urge them to reject this measure by clicking here. 

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