Lawmaker threatens to withhold $129M over weed decriminalization - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Lawmaker threatens to withhold $129M over weed decriminalization

Marijuana plant (Source: WMC Action News 5 archives) Marijuana plant (Source: WMC Action News 5 archives)

One state lawmaker is trying to punish any local government that decriminalizes marijuana.

Some politicians in Memphis and Shelby County are working to decriminalize the drug, but if William Lamberth of Cottontown has his way, any local government decriminalizing the drug would lose a lot of state funding.

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner is co-sponsoring a bill that will mirror the City of Memphis' effort to decriminalize small amounts of personal marijuana use, less than five ounces to be exact.

"This legislation is saying, 'young man, young woman if you make this mistake, you will not be punished for the rest of your life,'" Turner said.

He said decriminalization makes sense with benefits like reducing overcrowding in jails and lessening the burden on the criminal justice system. But not everyone agrees, including Commissioner Heidi Shafer.

"I think there are better ways to go about it that doesn't condone it and remember we already have a drug court," Shafer said.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Lutrell released the following statement:

"I'm not supportive of loosening the sanctions on drug use. Once we open those doors, we have an uncertain future. I'm skeptical of the value of legislation like that but I would withhold final judgment until I see what comes to me."

State representative Lamberth said he's considering legislation that would withhold highway funds to governments decriminalizing marijuana. In the case of Memphis, that would mean a loss of $129 million.

"That's a huge number. That would probably put in jeopardy our Lamar piece which is very very important to the Mid-South," Shafer said.

Commissioner Turner is not deterred and said decriminalization is the right thing for the longterm future of Memphis.

"The high murder rate, homicides, we don't need to be focusing on this. That's what we need to be focused on," Turner said.

The county legislation to decriminalize marijuana will be proposed by Turner on Wednesday.    

Tuesday, Memphis City Council will have their second reading of their ordinance.  A final vote could come as soon as October.

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