Tennessee Attorney General Calls Pot Ordinances Illegal

(CN) – Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said Wednesday that marijuana-decriminalization measures passed in Nashville and Memphis are not enforceable.

In a nine-page opinion, Slatery rejected any “ordinance that allows a police officer in lieu of a criminal warrant to issue a municipal citation that carries only a civil penalty of fifty dollars or community service for the offense of possession of one-half ounce or less of marijuana.”

Nashville’s Metro Council voted in September to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, and Memphis did the same the following month.

But on Wednesday, Slatery said the Tennessee Drug Control Act of 1989 preempts the local ordinances.

“The ordinance displaces the more stringent state law criminal penalties that the General Assembly has prescribed with substantially reduced civil fines by allowing an officer to issue a municipal civil citation, in lieu of a criminal warrant, to an offender,” the attorney general wrote. “There is no implicit authority for a municipality to adopt a state-law controlled-substance offense that imposes lesser penalties than those contained in the Drug Control Act.”

Slatery said the marijuana ordinances passed in Nashville and Memphis also interfere with the discretion of district attorneys general to prosecute violations of the Drug Control Act.

“Because the clear intent of the ordinance here is to punish a person for the possession of marijuana by the imposition of a fine, a district attorney general could be barred from prosecuting the offender in a subsequent state criminal action for a violation of the Drug Control Act,” he wrote.

Officials from the mayor’s office and the Metro Nashville Police Department have said they will continue enforcing the Nashville ordinance, while Memphis has suspended its enforcement of its own marijuana ordinance following Slatery’s opinion, according to local news reports.