City leaders unclear on next steps for enforcing marijuana ordin - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City leaders unclear on next steps for enforcing marijuana ordinance

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Memphis city leaders are responding after the City Council voted to pass the proposed marijuana ordinance, which makes possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana a civil offense instead of a criminal offense.

Now, the city is tasked with enforcing the ordinance.

"We have some ignorant people in our city," Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said. "And when I say ignorant, I don't mean it degradingly. That they just don't know."

Some saw it as a controversial comment, but it was Fullilove's main reason for voting against the ordinance that makes the possession of pot a civil offense.

The day after the ordinance was passed by the Memphis City Council, it wasn't just people around the city who "just don't know." City leaders don't know how it will play out either.

"We'll work with the clerk's office, the prosecutors, the judges to figure out how we're gonna make this happen," MPD Director Mike Rallings said.

Under the ordinance, police have the discretion when they catch people with small amounts of marijuana to charge them with a state criminal offense or a city offense.

Either way, it will still be illegal to possess marijuana.

"You may not have the same hurdles as far as having a state criminal charge, but it is an arrest," Rallings said.

But, what hurdles they would have in city court are still unclear.

A spokesperson for the city court clerk's office said they haven't received any instruction from the city's legal department or the city prosecutor on how to handle these cases.

A statement from the mayor was released saying there are questions still unanswered.

"I support the intent of this ordinance, to less severely punish non-violent offenders. The City Council's debate, though, did not answer several important questions."

The bottom line - no one knows exactly how the ordinance will work at this point.

Rallings said the process to make an ordinance official gives them time to figure it out.

"The minutes have not been approved. That's two weeks. The council chair has to sign it, then get it to the mayor. The mayor has 10 days to sign it," Rallings said.

Until then, Rallings said police will still enforce state law.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said she was disappointed in the ordinance passing.

"I'm disappointed. I think it sends the wrong message. But we'll continue doing what we do."

The ordinance means Weirich's office will no longer prosecute cases of marijuana possession filed as a civil offense.

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