Haslam signs repeal of new Nashville, Memphis marijuana laws

April 13, 2017: Governor Bill Haslam signed a measure stripping Nashville and Memphis of ordinances easing criminal punishment for marijuana possession.

NASHVILLE - Nashville and Memphis received great fanfare last fall from criminal justice advocates for passing local ordinances that gave police the power to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But now it's over after just seven months.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday signed into law Republican-backed legislation to repeal separate Nashville and Memphis laws that had allowed partial marijuana decriminalization in those communities, officially putting an end to the short-lived policies.

The nullification effort, sponsored by House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, breezed through the House and Senate last month, with only Democrats, far outnumbered, mounting any opposition.

Jennifer Donnals, Haslam's press secretary, said the governor deferred to the will of the legislature when asked why he supported the effort with his signature. She provided the same comment when asked for his opinion on the bill.

Nashville's ordinance, approved by the Metro Council in September and endorsed by Mayor Megan Barry, gave police the discretion to reduce the penalty for people who are found in possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less to a $50 Metro civil citation or 10 hours of community service. Police retained the option of charging a Class A state misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

A few weeks later, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance modeled off Nashville's.

The Metro Nashville Police Department's enforcement of the ordinance has halted following the repeal. In a statement on Haslam's signature, Barry spokesman Sean Braisted said Nashville police will no longer issue civil penalties for marijuana possession.

In Nashville, the lighter civil penalty had only been sparingly utilized. Nashville police issued just 39 Metro citations since the passage of the ordinance on Sept. 20, according to police spokesman Don Aaron, compared to 1,082 state-citation arrests.

Haslam's signature had been expected. The state bill, which was aimed directly at Nashville and Memphis, was worded as a repeal of any local law that is inconsistent with penalties outlined in the state’s statute for drug control and narcotic drugs. It also prevents local governments from creating their own sanctions for drug possession moving forward.

Tennessean


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