TN: Nashville Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Survives First Vote


A proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Nashville survived an unexpected roll-call first vote in the Metro Council Tuesday night.

The council voted 32-4, with one abstention, to advance a bill on the first of three readings that would lessen the penalty for people who knowingly possess or exchange a half-ounce of marijuana or less to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service.

The proposal, which marks the first time that Nashville’s legislative body has considered any type of marijuana decriminalization, arrived at the council Tuesday for what is typically a procedural first vote.

Under council process, all bills are usually advanced on first reading without discussion to move legislation into the council’s committee system – but most ordinances don’t typically involve the controversial topic of marijuana decriminalization.

Councilman Doug Pardue, who opposes the measure, was successful Tuesday in pulling the ordinance for a machine roll-call vote by getting four other council colleagues to back his motion.

Pardue expressed concern over what he called a lack of input by the Metro Nashville Police Department on the bill. The police department has objected to language in the ordinance that says violators “shall” be issued a citation for a civil penalty of $50 because they say the use of the word would remove discretion from police officers.

But Councilman Dave Rosenberg, the lead sponsor of the marijuana bill, disagreed, saying MNPD was, in fact, part of the discussion of the bill. He said it was his original understanding that the department had agreed to the language, but learned from statements given to media later that the department still had concerns.

Rosenberg said he’s looking forward to working with the police department to address the language.

Councilman Russ Pulley, another co-sponsor of the bill, sided with Rosenberg on the question of police input, while also adding that there’s “great interest” about the bill from constituents and that it warrants a debate by the council in committee.

“I think it’s completely unfair to shut off debate and kill this bill before we’ve ever had it before any committee – any conversation about it whatsoever,” Pulley said. “Let’s at least move it through the process and see what we can come up with. Everybody’s going to have an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

Pardue was joined by conservative council members Steve Glover, Holly Huezo and Bill Pridemore in voting against the legislation. Councilwoman Karen Johnson abstained from voting. Council members Bob Mendes and Decosta Hastings were listed as not voting.

Some other council members who voted to approve the bill on Tuesday said they did so to simply oblige council process but would likely vote against the bill during subsequent votes.

The decriminalization proposal – modeled after ordinances recently passed in Tampa and other municipalities in Florida – would allow people in Nashville caught possessing or casually exchanging one-half ounce of marijuana or less to avoid a criminal record.

Currently, under Tennessee law, individuals convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Bill sponsors have argued that the bill would simply create a local parallel ordinance to the state law. They have likened the decriminalization measure to Metro’s law for littering, which has less penalties not as severe as what is outlined in state law.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Nashville Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Survives First Vote
Author: Joey Garrison
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Website: The Tennessean