Nashville on Tuesday became the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and Memphis likely will become the second in two weeks. according to the Commercial Appeal.
The Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 35-3 on final reading Tuesday night to allow police officers to either issue a civil citation punishable by a $50 fine or community service, or charge someone under the state’s criminal law, for possession of a half-ounce or less or marijuana. Under state law, violators are charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.
Earlier in the day, members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators arrived in Memphis to campaign around the city and at City Council for a similar ordinance that received the second of three readings Tuesday before a final vote as early as Oct. 4. The ordinance is sponsored by council member Berlin Boyd.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said the caucus she presides over as chairwoman feels the criminal justice system across the state “has gotten out of whack.” The caucus isn’t advocating for legalizing marijuana, she emphasized, but is instead offering a second chance for low-income violators to avoid a cycle of a criminal justice system they perceive as discriminatory to African-Americans.
State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said criminal records for African-Americans associated with small amounts of marijuana thwart the future of a minority middle class.
“In the city of Memphis one of the things we lack is an African-American middle class,” Harris said, later adding: “This is a cycle that we’ve got try to get out of if we’re going to create an African-American middle class.”