State of the Leaf: Tennessee Halts Decrim in Memphis & Nashville

Published on March 30, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Memphis, Tennessee, USA - September 9, 2011: Beale Street is the very heart of entertainment in Memphis. A historic area of Memphis, TN, Beale St is lined with restuarants, clubs, and shops

State of the Leaf is Leafly’s weekly roundup of legalization news from around the nation and the world. 

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Cannabis reform is often a bipartisan issue—see, for instance, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—but once in a while the old Democratic-Republican stereotypes hold true. As they did this past week in Tennessee, sadly. Earlier this year, the cities of Nashville and Memphis passed cannabis decriminalization measures. That didn’t sit well with the Republican-dominated state legislature, which just passed a measure blocking those city measures from taking effect.

Jesse Kelley, of the Marijuana Policy Project, was dismayed by the reversal of hard-won progress.

“Giving local officers discretion to arrest for marijuana possession allows the community to respond to the issue narrowly and most effectively,” Kelley told Leafly. The legislature’s move, “injects partisan politics into a practice that officers and community members agree can effectively promote justice and provide safety.”

South Carolina

Unlike their Tennessee colleagues, conservative South Carolina lawmakers are ready to enact true medical cannabis legalization.

On Wednesday the House Committee on Medicine, Military and Public and Municipal Affairs (known as 3M) will hold a full committee meeting to discuss Rep. Eric Bedingfield’s bill, which would allow people with a debilitating medical condition, or their adult caregivers, to legally possess 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana. Republican co-sponsors tout the bill’s “seed-to-sale tracking” as a safeguard against medical cannabis escaping into the illicit market.

The main opposition to the medical bill comes from SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) and its head, Mark Keel, who has argued that marijuana is not medicine.  SLED and Keel have also vehemently opposed industrial hemp legislation.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the State Senate voted overwhelmingly to advance medical cannabis legislation in Charleston . The bill, SB-386, sailed through the upper house by a vote of 28 to 6. Might that decisive result portend good things in a state that’s yet to adopt any form of medical marijuana legislation? Unfortunately, so long as the ardently anti-cannabis Delegate Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) runs the House is Delegates, medical cannabis advocates in West Virginia have little room for optimism. 

“Thousands of seriously ill West Virginians are anxiously waiting for their lawmakers to do the right thing and pass this bill,” Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) official Matt Simon said in a statement. “They shouldn’t have to suffer or be treated like criminals while patients in 28 other states can legally access medical marijuana.” But it looks like they will, unless the bill’s sponsors can find a way to overcome Armstead’s objections. 


A bill was introduced today to make Delaware the first state to curtail cannabis prohibition legislatively.  A tax-and-regualte measure, HB 110 also levies a $50 excise tax on every ounce of cannabis flowers (“buds.”) 

“The money would have benefit for education, for social service issues, and I think it’s something (DE Gov. John Carney) is going to have to consider given our financial woes,” Senator Margaret Rose-Henry (D-Wimington) told reporters at today’s press conference in Dover. 

This potentially groundbreaking legislation does not contain a home-grow provision. 

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A pair of bills would legalize cannabis in Illinois if a pair of state senator get their way. Gov. Bruce Rauner remains circumspect. And that’s putting it nicely. He didn’t actually promise to veto the bill, but Gov. Raumer did indicate his clear displeasure with the idea.

“I’m not a believer that legalizing more drugs will help our society, so I’m not philosophically enthusiastic about it,” Rauner said in a recent radio interview. “I’m hearing a lot of trouble. My friends in Colorado have told me some pretty terrible things about addiction problems and behavior problems over there in Denver…..I just believe we’re conducting a massive human experiment as we legalize these drugs.”

Word salad. Reefer madness. Isn’t it interesting how many “friends in Colorado” prohibitionists often seem to have—and how keenly they’re monitoring addiction and behavior problems, despite scant evidence of any uptick since legalization. And most certainly not what an overwhelming majority of Illinois residents want to hear: In a poll conducted earlier this month, 66 percent of Illinois resident support the legalization of recreational marijuana if it’s taxed and regulated like alcohol. 45 percent of voters support legalization strongly, and 31 percent oppose legalization. Also, 74 percent of voters support or strongly support cannabis  decriminalization (where possession of small amounts would not be prosecuted, but instead may result in a fine).

“It took us nearly ten years to pass medical cannabis in the state, and two to lower criminal penalties for possession,” MPP’s Chris Lindsey told Leafly. “Each time, there were serious discussions and ultimately lawmakers agreed that changing policy was the best course. This change, like the others, represents a significant shift in policy, and it’s likely to be a lengthy discussion. ”

If campaign contributions are a form of free speech, then candidates should be permitted to accept money from the medical cannabis industry, right? Not so according to Illinois lawmakers. But in a victory for free speech purists, a Federal Court last Thursday struck down the state law banning campaign contributions from medical cannabis businesses. So now licensed cannabis businesses are free to contribute to candidates and PACs.


In some not-so-refreshing news, an investigation by the Detroit Free Press has uncovered a number of troubling questions about the state’s growing medical marijuana industry and former state lawmakers.

Among its findings:

  • Lobbying efforts by medical cannabis types have “exploded” in Lansing.
  • Several former high-lever legislative staffers gave their notice and went to work as paid medical cannabis lobbyists lobbying their former colleagues
  • Michigan’s lax campaign disclosure laws create the climate for these potential conflicts to persist.


Voters in Colorado made it nation’s first legal cannabis state 2012. Now Colorado lawmakers are girding to repel any potential federal intrusion into the state’s cannabis program. Pending legislation would permit the state’s 500 or so licensed recreational cannabis growers to reclassify their bounty for sale as medical cannabis.  An early adopter of change, Colorado has much to lose should the Feds intrude into state cannabis laws.

Meanwhile, Denver debates the downside of criminalizing pubic consumption. It’s still illegal in the state of Colorado to smoke cannabis is public. Sorting out the complicated public consumption bit is among Colorado’s more persistent growing pains


The legislative battle to overturn cannabis prohibition stalled last week in Montpelier. After coming close to legalizing adult-use cannabis last year, the state legislature appeared on the verge of faltering once again in 2017. And then a lifeline appeared: On March 22, the House Judiciary Committee approved H. 170, which would legalize the possession of up to one ounce and allow Vermonters to grow up to four plants per household.

The bill now moves to the House floor, where it could face a vote as early as this Friday. By the way, only 40% of Vermont residents favor the current prohibition model, a fact a advocates in Montpelier were at pains to underscore.

Rhode Island 

A leadership change in Providence may dramatically enhance the chances of meaningful cannabis reform in Rhode Island.

Don’t let Rhode Island’s outgoing Senate President Terasa Paiva Weed’s name fool you, she’s no fan of legalization. But’s she’s on her way out. And luckily  Senator Weed’s heir apparent holds a different view.

“I believe that removing marijuana from the black market may make our communities safer,” said incoming Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

“Many of us advocates are sick and tired, quite literally, of these issues being swept under the rug,” long-time Providence advocate Melissa Bouchard told Leafly. “This is a perfect example of why we must come together and go after the politicians in leadership positions who stall on our issues.”

New Mexico

Marijuana advocates in New Mexico are surprisingly optimistic in the face of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s hostility towards medical marijuana. More evidence the Trump administration’s hostility (Sessions, Chris Christie) is galvanizing advocates?

Speaking of Gov. Christie….

New Jersey

Good news!  Something’s cooking in the Garden State.

Also, NJ Governor Chris Christie was tapped to chair the White House’s  “official drug commission,” tasked with addressing nation’s yawning heroin crisis. The notoriously anti-cannabis governor has a so-so record on opiates. Not a good omen in light for any efforts to use medical cannabis to ramp down off opiates.

Whether this becomes Christie’s full-time job (or he stays in Trenton until his term expires in January), Jersey lawmakers will introduce a legalization bill  “any day now.”

“This will be the opening salvo to define what the adult use market would look like in a post-Chrisie era,” one GOP lawmaker [Scott Rudder, Mayor and Assemblyman] told Leafy off-the-record.



When medical cannabis is finally legalized in Ireland, it’s thanks to people like Vera Twomley. Grab a tissue before you press play.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s ruling Labor party have vowed to legalize cannabis by July 2018. Book your tickets now! Canada’s  left-wing NRP Party isn’t buying Labor’s timeline, demanding swifter action.

And cannabis-related stocks soared on the news.

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Jay Lassiter
Jay Lassiter
Jay has been covering New Jersey politics since 2005, when he founded a political journalism site and became the first credentialed statehouse blogger in America. He currently reports on politics for Leafly and the New York Observer.
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