Rep. London Lamar proposes bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

State Representative. London Lamar.
(Photo: London Lamar via Twitter)

Tennessee Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) last week filed a bill to allow possession of small amounts of marijuana without prosecution, as long as there is no transaction taking place.

Under HB413, it would no longer be illegal for a person to possess up to one ounce (about 28 grams) of marijuana. The measure would also allow individuals to “casually transfer” up to one ounce of marijuana to another person. 

Transfers of small amounts of marijuana that involve “the payment of money or a gift card, debit card, credit card, or any other card, coupon, or token that is capable of being exchanged for money, merchandise, or goods” in exchange for the marijuana would still be against the law.

The bill would only decriminalize the transfer of small amounts of marijuana “in the form of a plant.” The measure specifically excludes other forms of cannabis “including but not limited to, a resin, compound, derivative, concentrate, or oil.”

First-term state
Rep. Sam McKenzie

Rep. Lamar said the bill would set a statewide guideline for marijuana possession. 

“What we want to do is make sure there’s a unified standard across Tennessee where no matter what county you’re in, there’s the same standard around criminalization and having the possession of marijuana,” she said.

Tennessee is one of a dwindling number of states that has neither decriminalized marijuana or legalized any medical marijuana program.

Despite those mandates, the Nashville District Attorney’s Office no longer prosecutes for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.

Low-level marijuana charges disproportionately impact minorities, the DA’s office explained when announcing Nashville’s policy change last July.

“Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety,” Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk said. 
“Demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionality in the justice system.”

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana has long faced stiff opposition. Currently, state law does not allow the possession, use, or sale of marijuana for any reason, medical or recreational. 

First-term Democratic Rep. Sam McKenzie of Knoxville said he supports legalizing medical marijuana, citing his mother’s case of terminal cancer. 
“From what I hear, marijuana helps with those and other medicinal purposes,” he noted. “Why not? We’re giving drugs that are much more harmful than marijuana.”

If HB413 is able to successfully navigate through the Tennessee legislature and is passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill would then have to be signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to become law. 

If the measure is successfully signed into law, it would go into effect on July 1, 2021, “the public welfare requiring it,” according to wording in the bill.