Committee votes to move forward with marijuana decriminalization ordinance

City Council takes up marijuana proposal
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis City Council will soon do a first reading of an ordinance that would make possession of a small amount marijuana a civil penalty, rather than add to a person's criminal history.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee voted 6-3 to move towards a first of three readings on the ordinance.

If passed as a civil penalty, the person caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would face a $50 fine or up to 10 hours of community service as opposed to a misdemeanor charge. While some are in favor with marijuana decriminalization, not everyone is on board.

"What I'm trying to do is free up the court system," Councilman Berlin Boyd said. "Reduce the penalties that individuals are facing and also, give people an opportunity. Give them a second chance."

Boyd said too many people end up with a criminal history and clog up the judicial system with, what he considers, a minor crime.

John Marek is an attorney who agrees with Councilman Boyd for several reasons.

"We don't have new sources of revenue," Marek said. "Here is one right here. Instead of the money going to the courts, it goes to the city."

Marek also believes it will help police officers conserve resources.

But, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings said that is not the case. He worries it could make it easier for drug dealers to get away with their crimes and could lead to more people doing drugs.

"I'm not going to promote smoking marijuana," Rallings said. "I want to make sure that is not our message, because we need to promote not smoking marijuana so these young people can get jobs."

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said we should not need an ordinance to keep people's records clean.

"Stop driving and having weed in your car," she said. "Then you won't get arrested."

Three readings of the ordinance are required for it to become a law.

This will be at least a six week process, with a lot of importance conversations to still take place prior to any final vote.

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