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Memphis Lawmaker Pitches Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Possessing less than one ounce of marijuana would be decriminalized in Tennessee under a new bill proposed by state Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis.

"We have a lot of kids getting out of college who may have a criminal charge on their record," Kyle said on Wednesday. "We're losing a whole pool of talented people. These people may have made a mistake. Not only do we need them working, we need them participating in the community."

State Sen. Sara Kyle (Photo: Jed DeKalb)

The bill would be another try at decriminalizing marijuana in Tennessee after Memphis and Nashville city councils passed ordinances in 2016 giving police the ability to give out lighter penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

A divided Memphis City Council voted 7-6 to allow police to issue penalties for possessing a half-ounce or less of marijuana of a $50 fine or community service.

MPD Director Michael Rallings after council vote on marijuana ordinance

Former Gov. Bill Haslam in 2017 signed a bill into law that repealed the Memphis and Nashville local laws giving police more latitude with small marijuana possession citations.

More: House approves bill to block Nashville, Memphis marijuana laws

Memphis City Councilman Frank Colvett was among the six council members who voted against that Memphis marijuana decriminalization ordinance in 2016, and he has many of the same concerns today, he said.

"I would respectfully request that the Legislature be cautious of this," Colvett said. "We were given a lot of reasons by the police department why legalization would be a bad idea."

Tennessee is one of 17 states where marijuana remains illegal under state law. In recent years, 10 states, including California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Vermont, have legalized cannabis for recreational uses, despite the fact that it remains illegal under federal law, and other cannabis-derived products are gaining popularity.

The remainder of states allow medical marijuana and/or have decriminalized possession of marijuana under a specific amount.

(Photo: Getty Images)

"I think the more you talk about it, the more people will study it and contribute to the conversation," Kyle said. "I think we need to quit penalizing people for possession of marijuana when it's less than one ounce, and get them back to work."

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