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Bills to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana introduced in Tennessee senate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two bills proposed in the Tennessee state Senate Wednesday would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and allow for medical marijuana patients from other states to legally bring less than a half-ounce into Tennessee.

Proposed by Memphis Sen. Sara Kyle, the first bill would give another try after Memphis and Nashville previously tried to decriminalize marijuana possession in their cities.

“I don’t think Memphis has any more of a problem with this per capita than any other city,” Kyle said.

She said she knows many people who cannot get jobs because they have criminal marijuana charges. She wants to stop penalizing people, when some of them could have committed the offense years ago in college, and allow them to contribute to the economy.

“We need to put these people on the tax payroll and get them to work,” Kyle said. “We’re losing so many talented people who have good skill sets, but they can’t get employment, should they have criminal charges like this on their record.”

She said the most important thing is to educate people, including some of her fellow senators.

“Once you educate people, you will get better discussion,” she said.

The city bills from Memphis and Nashville were shot down by then-Gov. Bill Haslam. With Gov. Bill Lee now in office, Kyle said she hopes to educate him about these issues, even though she does not yet know his opinion on the medical marijuana bills.

Kyle’s other bill would allow medical marijuana patients from another state to legally possess less than one-half ounce of marijuana in Tennessee.

She said this is important as Arkansas readies to open medical dispensaries in April.

“Many people from Arkansas drive right over to Memphis to work,” Kyle said. “If you have a half an ounce, you could be criminally charged in Tennessee for it at this time.”

She said the current law discriminates against people who are prescribed medical marijuana. She said other medications damage people’s bodies worse, but there is no criminality associated with them.

“You take many drugs that are legal because your doctor prescribed them,” Kyle said. “I just don’t think it makes sense to be allowed to bring other medicines for health reasons across state lines and not be allowed to bring medical marijuana.

She said other states have similar laws, and it is time for Tennessee to follow suit.

All bills are to be introduced by Feb. 7, and Kyle said these bills will then go to committees for discussion and further motions.

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