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Bill that blocks marijuana decriminalization passes


  NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Legislature has passed a bill that would bar cities in Tennessee from decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

If the governor signs the bill, it will strike down laws in Memphis and Nashville that give police the discretion to write civil citations for people who have small amounts of weed.

The bill passed in the Senate on Monday evening after impassioned debate on both sides of the issue.

Sen. Lee Harris, a Democrat from Memphis, pleaded with fellow lawmakers to vote against the bill, saying that more people will likely wind up behind bars if it becomes law.

"Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate, if we prevent cities from taking action in this area, we can rest assured that there will be more Tennesseans that are in prison on terms that are out of proportion with their crime," Harris told fellow lawmakers during debate. He said people would find it harder to find employment as a result of being charged with marijuana possession. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, described it as an "invasion of local control" and worried that the measure would take discretion out of police hands.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Oak Ridge, said laws needs to be uniformly enforced across the state.

"Marijuana use, abuse is a very serious issue in this state," Yager said.

But Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, worried about a slippery slope of telling other lawmakers and other cities what to do. But Sen. Jack Johnson, the Republican from Franklin who sponsored the bill, disagreed.

"Let me tell you what a slippery slope is," Johnson said. "It is when we start allowing municipalities to decide what state laws they want to enforce and what state laws they do not want to enforce."