The Memphis City Council may have taken the first vote on the possible decriminalization of marijuana, but the question is it even legal to do? And if so, what would the fall out be?
The city of Nashville is considering a similar ordinance. Supporters say decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would unclog the court system and alleviate overcrowding in the jail, but defense lawyers question if it can even be done.
“A lot of us like the idea of decriminalization of marijuana, but I just don’t think they have thought this through very well,” said attorney Claiborne Ferguson.
The Memphis City Council proposal is to decriminalize less than half an ounce of marijuana. Instead of criminal charges, it would essentially be a civil fine and not go on a person’s record. Lawyers say that could reduce the caseload in Shelby County courts. But it could mean an increase at city court, which is where those types of cases would likely be handled.
“If they turn it over to a civil citation, then those cases would be handled by the three divisions of city court, and they are always full with driving cases,” said Ferguson.
Others wonder if it is even legal.
“What are you going to do about state law and federal law. I’m not sure city council has the ability to pass laws that contradict state and federal law,” said attorney Leslie Ballin.
“My thoughts are it should have been done a long time ago. There has been a lot of lives impacted and ruined by small amounts of marijuana,” said attorney Bill Massey.
A spokesperson for the Shelby County District Attorney’s office didn’t have a comment, except to say, it’s against the law to possess marijuana. Period.