TN Black Caucus supports decriminalization of marijuana - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

TN Black Caucus supports decriminalization of marijuana

Rep. Raumesh Akbari (Source: capitol.tn.gov) Rep. Raumesh Akbari (Source: capitol.tn.gov)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Tennessee Black Caucus of Legislators threw its support behind the decriminalization of marijuana in the volunteer state.

"I think that when you look at the arrests, it is disproportionally affecting the African American community," Rep. Raumesh Akbari said.

Akbari is one of the 17 members of the Tennessee Black Caucus. All the group's members are Democrats and they almost exclusively represent Memphis or Nashville.

Memphis and Nashville have both seen proposals to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposals seek to change the punishment for carrying small amounts of marijuana from being a misdemeanor offense to being an offense that calls for a fine or community service as punishment.

"It's only natural that we would transition and support it on a city level, especially considering the disparate impact on our communities. And so we felt like as a collective body we had to speak out and support it," Akbari said.

Advocates of this sort of decriminalization of marijuana say it will help free up police to focus on violent crime.

"That way we can focus on people that are committing more egregious crimes, and those that are doing these low-level drug offenses won't crowd our jails, won't crowd our court system. And also, you won't ruin someone's life over a small amount of drugs," Akbari said.

She said she knows Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings has come out against the ordinance, but that won't stop her from trying to change minds.

"I think that maybe he'll come around, but it really is just the beginning of a conversation in my mind."

Akbari said even though Governor Bill Haslam has also come out against decriminalization, she thinks there will be bipartisan support to loosen marijuana laws on the state level.

"We're getting our legislative agendas together now. So, I certainly anticipate it coming up on a state level."

Akbari said something has to be done to address the problem in Memphis of black people being significantly more likely to be arrested for pot possession than white people.

"The bottom line is I don't know why that's the case, but I at least want to try and address it. And so I think this ordinance will help."

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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