AG says city marijuana decriminalization ordinances are invalid

City ordinances approved in Nashville and Memphis to decriminalize possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana are invalid, according to state attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday.

The opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery, requested by Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Ron Lollar, says that the state’s Drug Control Act establishes penalties for marijuana and city governments to not have authority to lessen the penalty. The Nashville and Memphis ordinances, enacted earlier this year, allow police to issue a citation for payment of a $50  civil penalty for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.

State law sets the minimum penalty as a $250 fine on first offense, a $500 fine on second offense and $1,000 on third offense. The maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to 11 months, 29 days in jail.

“The ordinance’s significantly lesser penalty provisions are repugnant to the State’s policy decision as to the requisite penalties for the offense of marijuana possession,” says the opinion.  “Moreover, the ordinance frustrates the State’s ability to enforce the Act’s penalty provisions in a unified manner throughout Tennessee, which would result in disparate and impermissibly unequal treatment of offenders.

“One of the rudimentary objectives of our criminal code is to “[p]rescrib[e] penalties that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense.”  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-101(4).  The ordinance’s lesser penalty provisions run afoul of this objective, as well as the policy objectives of the Drug Control Act.

“The ordinance also conflicts with state law because it interferes with the discretion of a district attorney general to prosecute violations of the Drug Control Act,” the opinion says.

The full opinion is HERE.

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