TN: Not Whether, But When – It’s Time To Decriminalize Marijuana


Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg wants Nashville to take it easy on dope smokers. (So do council members Freddie O’Connell and Russ Pulley.)

The councilmen have filed an ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana in Nashville. Marijuana possession in that amount would be subject to a civil penalty of $50, or 10 hours of community service if a judge chose, and would not create a criminal record.

I don’t know if this bill is the right bill, but the councilmen are right to push for a different treatment of marijuana possession. The challenge for Nashville will be to find a way to work with state and federal officials to make this, or any, approach work.

Rosenberg told The Tennessean that his bill would work like Metro’s ordinance for littering, which imposes lesser penalties than stipulated by the Tennessee Code, which classifies littering as a misdemeanor crime.

Tennessee law treats lower levels of marijuana possession as a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. Last session, the General Assembly lowered the penalty for a third offense from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Thursday the federal Drug Enforcement Administration reiterated its categorization of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, one that has no medical use. The DEA decision means that behavior that is legal in half of the 50 states is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Changing attitudes

While the government maintained the Schedule 1 designation for marijuana, it will apparently relax rules on marijuana research, according to news reports. The University of Mississippi is the only legal source for researchers to buy marijuana for experimental use, but other institutions will be able to apply for that permission soon.

Despite the difficulty to research the medical efficacy of marijuana, 25 states have legalized the drug to treat a range of conditions.

The Tennessee General Assembly has considered medical marijuana exemptions, but backers have not found sufficient support to bring a bill to the floor. This is despite a growing acceptance in Tennessee for medicinal marijuana.

In 2015, Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said that her survey of 5,000 District 56 Nashvillians found that 64 percent supported legalizing marijuana for medical uses. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, also surveyed his district that year with similar results – 65 percent said medical marijuana should be legal.

With 25 states having legalized medical marijuana use and four states allowing some recreational uses, American attitudes are vastly different from the DEA’s perspective.

A March survey showed that 61 percent of Americans are in favor of some sort of legalization (most of the support is for medicinal use).

Rational path

Metro has not fared well when it picks a fight with the legislature, and probably won’t find many friends in this effort to decriminalize marijuana possession, but maybe there is a way to find common ground between the scofflaws on the Metro Council and those in the legislature, who enjoy thumbing their noses at the federal government for its irrational laws.

Tennessee lawmakers need to examine our marijuana laws, which have saddled too many residents with perhaps unwarranted criminal records, and Nashville should be willing to explore ways to help.

There are better ways to regulate marijuana use and abuse than how we do it now, and Tennessee has done a good job of finding unique solutions for many different problems.

Time for the Tennessee Plan on marijuana.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Not Whether, But When – It’s Time To Decriminalize Marijuana
Author: Frank Daniels
Contact: 615-259-8095
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Website: The Tennessean