TN: Nashville To Consider Decriminalization Of Small Amounts Of Marijuana

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A legislative push has mounted in Nashville that seeks to reduce the penalty for individuals who are found possessing or casually exchanging small amounts of marijuana to allow them to avoid a criminal record.

A newly filed ordinance sponsored by three Metro Council members would lessen the penalty for people who knowingly possess or exchange a half-ounce of marijuana (14.175 grams) or less to a $50 civil penalty. A court could also choose to suspend the civil penalty and instead mandate 10 hours of community service.

Under Tennessee law, violators of this offense face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

If the Nashville ordinance is approved, a third offense of small amounts of marijuana would remain a felony, which is required by state law.

Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg, a self-described libertarian who is among those who have introduced the Nashville ordinance, said his bill would simply create a “local parallel ordinance” to the state law.

He argued it would work within the confines of state law, likening the decriminalization measure to Metro’s law for littering, which he said has penalties not as severe as what is outlined in state law.

“This would allow the police to just write a ticket,” said Rosenberg, who called it needlessly expensive and time-consuming for police to arrest people over the marijuana misdemeanor and misguided to give offenders criminal records.

He said that someone who makes a mistake as a kid can be haunted entire lives because of the criminal offenses that face under the current marijuana law here.

“It’s very unproductive,” he said. “This has been an issue that has been moving nationwide from Florida to Washington as our society has come to understand that the most harmful effect of marijuana is marijuana laws.”

Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said in a statement Wednesday that the department opposes the ordinance in its current form, but did not elaborate.

The council will consider the ordinance on a first of three votes next week. The bill is co-sponsored by council members Freddie O’Connell and Russ Pulley.

O’Connell said Metro is limited by state law on the issue of marijuana decriminalization but believes the local ordinance is consistent with what is allowed.

“The whole thing here is, can we keep somebody from starting down the road of having a criminal record just for small possession where they’re clearly not dealing?” O’Connell said. “If we look at our prison system, this is one of the greatest travesties, in my opinion, of criminal justice practice over the past generation.”

Rosenberg said the ordinance is similar to a host of local measures recently approved in the state of Florida. That includes Tampa Bay, which passed a law in March to allow people in possession of three quarters of an ounce to pay fines instead of being charged criminally.

The Nashville push comes more than a year after a petition-drive for a public referendum for a Metro charter amendment on prosecution of marijuana possession stalled after falling short of the number of required signatures.

The proposal, led by Tennessee chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, sought to prevent Metro government from using financial resources on the criminal prosecution of an adult for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. The group collected a few thousand short of the 6,845 signatures it needed to force measure to on the ballot of the Metro general election last August.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Nashville To Consider Decriminalization Of Small Amounts Of Marijuana
Author: Joey Garrison
Contact: 615-259-8095
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Website: Tennessean