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ACLU: Memphis Marijuana Reform a Matter of 'Racial Justice'

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee is urging citizens to support a proposal before the Memphis City Council to decriminalize marijuana.

Two weeks ago, council member Berlin Boyd proposed lowering charges for those possessing a half ounce (or less) of marijuana. The new rule would allow Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers to enforce existing state rules on possession or the new charges proposed by Boyd.

State laws come with a maximum fine of $250 and up to a year in jail. Boyd’s original proposal called for a $50 fine for marijuana possession and, possibly, some community service. He has revamped the rule to include, among other things, a sliding scale of fines based on the number of times an individual is arrested on marijuana possession.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, urged its members to contact city council members to support the proposal, calling the issue a matter of “racial justice” and that the state spends a large amount of money each year enforcing marijuana laws.

Here’s what Weinberg said in her letter:


“For too long, thousands of Memphians have been arrested for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana — leading to disastrous consequences for their lives, including the loss of job, education, and housing opportunities.

Make no mistake — this is an issue of racial justice. As of 2010, in Shelby County a black person was 4.2 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person, though the two groups use marijuana at comparable rates.

Tell council members to reduce unjust and discriminatory marijuana arrests.

In 2010, approximately 42.2 percent of Tennessee drug arrests were for marijuana possession and Tennessee spent an estimated $42,948,820 enforcing marijuana possession laws.

This ordinance would significantly reduce the costly incarceration rate for this low-level violation, freeing law enforcement to focus on addressing violent crime.”


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