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District Attorney weighs in on marijuana ordinance

MEMPHIS, Tenn. --Marijuana is on the minds of the Memphis City Council.

On Tuesday Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich spoke for the first time publicly about a proposed marijuana ordinance at a City Council Committee meeting.

The council is discussing getting rid of jail time for having half an ounce of marijuana or less. They would receive a $50 fine and community service.

D.A. Weirich broke down the number of cases her office sees that are solely marijuana offenses.

On Tuesday, many leaders, including Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, said they want to take the wait and see approach and not make any swift decisions.

"We just need to make sure we're doing it right," said Rallings. "We see it, we've passed some ordinances that have needed some work and I'd like to do the work on the front end."

Rallings said he wants to make sure the Memphis City Council thoroughly vets an ordinance decriminalizing a half ounce of marijuana.

It would be a $50 fine and community service if you're caught with it.

There was talk of increasing the fee, but Councilman Berlin Boyd, who is proposing the ordinance, said that couldn't happen because it violated the state constitution.

On Tuesday WREG's Shay Arthur asked Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich what she thought of the possible change.

"I don't think whether I support it or not is the point. I think part of the conversation, as Director Rallings has said, are the facts. And the facts are for most of these they are citations, these are misdemeanors and there's not an arrest."

She said last year her office reviewed 333 simple possession marijuana cases.

Keep in mind these are cases only involving marijuana.

Mayor Jim Strickland said he takes those numbers into consideration when forming his opinion of the ordinance, but wants a broad discussion.

"What I'd like to hear more discussion of is the people who are at the drug court or who counsel drug addicted folks."

Councilman Boyd said he plans to meet with Director Rallings and D.A. Weirich to look at ways they can make the ordinance beefier and expects there will be changes before it is final

"Once we're done you'll see a very strong, independent ordinance that other cities will probably call Memphis and say 'Can we use your ordinance because it's just that good,'"said Boyd.

Another approach would be to wait and see how Nashville approaches the issue.

Nashville's City Council is hearing a reading of the ordinance Tuesday night. Memphis leaders said they were interested in seeing how Nashville handled the issue.

One thing to note, the police department there just changed their stance from against to neutral.

The Memphis City Council could have a decision about the proposed ordinance by Oct.4.