City of Memphis leaders change the ways police punish those with less than a half ounce of marijuana

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis City Council approved a plan to make having smaller amounts of marijuana punishable by ticket rather than jail time.

A young woman spoke to council members saying she came close to a jail cell instead of college because she was caught with a small amount of marijuana.

“Many children could lose their chance at life, lose their chance at education because of a plant,” she said.

Still, that plant concerns many.

“School teachers in Colorado say the children are coming back after lunch high,” said Elbert Hutchinson.

Council members Boyd and Jones came up with the change to make less than a half of ounce of pot punishable with a ticket, not jail time, saying it's no different than alcohol.

The council members argue it will make it easier for young people to get jobs after trying the drug early in life.

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway agreed.

“This is an incredible start at curing a problem we didn't have to have,” said Hardaway.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said she speaks from experience.

“It is illegal to get in your car and drive with alcohol in your system, I should know first-hand,” said Fullilove.

She also mentioned a brief experimentation with marijuana.

“I was like the president, I didn't inhale, but just one time,” she added.

She thinks it's still a gateway drug and the changes proposed will confuse teens.

“Some people think they will have free reign to walk up to a police officer, take a hit off a joint, and say ha ha you can't do a doggone thing to me,” said Fullilove. “We have some ignorant people in our city.”

Police Director Michael Rallings showed slides where officers were able to make almost 40 joints from a half ounce of pot.  Rallings still promised to enforce the new law as the council dictated.

He said MPD will have to work with the courts to figure out when this will take effect.

He also reminded officers will still have discretion to arrest as needed.