Marijuana ordinance passes City Council

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It's been a hot topic in Memphis, and now the votes are in.

The ordinance to lessen the punishments for small amounts of marijuana in Memphis has passed, 7 votes to 6.

Now police officers will have a choice when it comes to punishing people caught with a small amount of marijuana on them.

It's an ordinance that didn't burn out, and one Councilman Berlin Boyd said is a step in the right direction.

"We have to change the dynamics and we have to be intentional about what we do," he said.

People can now get a $50 fine or community service for having less than half an ounce of marijuana in Memphis. Or officers could also still decide to charge them.

The goal is to keep people out of jail and ease the poverty levels.

"It's going to be better for everybody. It saves the community resources when officers don't have to go and sit in court over a substance that's safer than nutmeg," NORML Memphis president John Marek said. NORML Memphis advocates for reforming marijuana laws.

Police will report quarterly to City Council in regards to the ordinance. They'll explain why some people went to court while others got community service, creating data they hope will help mold the future.

"We have to shed light on some of the disparities the African-Americans are facing, not only in the city of Memphis but throughout this country," Boyd said.

Council members Boyd, Edmund Ford Jr., Reid Hedgepeth, Martavius Jones, Patrice J. Robinson, Philip Spinosa Jr. and Jamita Swearengen voted to pass.

Council members Joe Brown, Frank Colvett, Kemp Conrad, Fullilove, Worth Morgan and Bill Morrison voted no.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove was one who spoke out against it.

"I don't want to see our African American males being used as we have seen in history's past that when you want a fall guy: A black guy did it," said Fullilove.

However, those in favor said it's going to start a larger conversation.

"I think it's huge because I think it sends a message to Nashville that we're ready for change," Marek said. "There's change happening all over the country on this issue."

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