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Tennessee Legislature Battles Nashville and Memphis Over Marijuana Legalization

While marijuana legalization is making massive strides forward throughout the country, with a whopping eight states voting to legalize marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes in November’s election, the movement to “legalize it” is facing resistance in Tennessee.

The Tennessee House of Representatives just approved a bill to repeal local ordinances approved by city councils in Nashville and Memphis last year that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a seemingly promising foothold for marijuana legalization in a very politically and culturally conservative state.

Of course, Nashville and Memphis are islands of Democratic “blue” on the broader “red” landscape of Tennessee. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), passed through the Tennessee House 65-28 in favor of repealing the work done last year by Nashville and Memphis’ city councils.

The Tennessean reported:

“Much of the chamber’s debate centered on arguments about local control, with several Democrats saying the state should not be making decisions that overrule local governments.”

It’s another example of a political inversion you’ll likely see a lot more of over the next four years: Democrats arguing for devolution of power (a traditionally Republican stance) from GOP-controlled states and the Republican federal government to Democratically-controlled metros.

Interestingly, the Tennessean said the bill “would nullify the partial marijuana decriminalization laws…” The newspaper is technically using the word correctly, but in the common parlance of US legal theory, “nullification” actually refers to a state government voiding federal provisions it considers unconstitutional, not local ordinances.

So in a sense, what the Nashville and Memphis city councils did when they passed their decriminalization ordinances — asserting local privilege and defying state and federal laws — looks more like nullification than the Tennessee House’s reaction against them.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) decried the “onslaught” of efforts by state lawmakers in 2017 to dictate to local governments what they can and can’t do, adding, “The individuals that were elected by those cities, by those communities, by those voters know what’s best at the local level.”

The state’s Democrats weren’t entirely alone, however, in their support of the local marijuana ordinances. Six Republicans dissented, including Tennessee’s House Speaker, Beth Harwell, who represents Nashville in the state House and doesn’t like the state interfering with her city.

Harwell, a Republican legislator with an independent streak who is currently weighing a 2018 bid for governor, also supports legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee for limited medicinal uses.

These include patients suffering from “cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable seizures, Crohn’s disease, Huntington’s disease, some cases of spinal cord damage, and in cases of improving quality of life for people with terminal conditions.”

The medical marijuana legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), died without a vote in the Tennessee Senate earlier this month.

It can certainly be said that marijuana legalization has stalled in Tennessee in 2017.

Photo Credit: photo.ua / shutterstock.com

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