Nashville Decriminalizes Weed
The Metro Council for the city of Nashville, Tennessee has approved a measure to allow for lesser penalties for citizens caught possessing marijuana. The bill met with overwhelming support by members of the council, with 35 voting for the measure and only three against.
Currently, the state of Tennessee has not legalized marijuana in any way. As the first city in the state to be more lenient with its cannabis regulation, Nashville has approved a landmark bill for the state. It gives police the option to give citizens possessing the plant a civil penalty rather than the much harsher criminal one.
Law enforcement will now have two options when confronted with an individual possessing a half-ounce or less of marijuana. They can choose to enforce the harsher criminal statute if the situation warrants it, the penalty for which is a $2,500 fine and up to 1 year in jail. Or, with this new measure, a second option: a $50 fine and 10 hours of community service. Importantly, this lesser fine also comes without the criminal strike against the person’s record; rather, the fine is a civil one. In this way, marijuana possession would be more like a parking ticket than a criminal misdemeanor.
Councilman Dave Rosenberg, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the following, “All this bill does is give police the option of not treating someone with a little pot like a hardened criminal. Because when you start treating good members of our society like criminals they begin acting like criminals.” Rosenberg and other supporters of the bill hope that with this measure, fewer Nashville citizens will fall into a cycle of criminality that often starts with a charge of marijuana possession.
The last step for the bills being put into effect is the mayor’s signature, and she’s planning on signing it: “This legislation is a positive step forward in addressing the overly punitive treatment of marijuana possession in our state that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority residents.” Mayor Barry’s statement echoes the sentiments of Councilman Rosenberg’s. In their view, possessing a small amount of marijuana is not a severe enough crime to be subjecting the often young and minority residents of Nashville to the criminal justice system. Barry also notes, however, that this ordinance “…is not a license to sell, possess, or use marijuana in Nashville.” She cites the fact that police may still enforce the misdemeanor charge if appropriate.
Opposition to the Bill
State Representative William Lamberth is on record as being against the legislation. He’s said the ordinance creates “two standards of justice,” where one person could face the minor civil penalty and another the severe criminal one. He referred to the bill as “a Russian roulette situation” under which citizens will be unsure which penalty they’ll face.
Additionally, a state bill is being “strongly considered” that would halt state highway funding to cities that do not enforce the same criminal penalties that the state does – like the city of Nashville and this marijuana ordinance. Funding, in this instance, would resume when the offending cities reverted to penalizing offenses the same way the state does.
The Final Hit
Regardless of some opposition, the ordinance is imminent, and the people of Nashville will see first hand its results. Hopes are high that they are favorable, and other cities in the state are taking note and following suit. Memphis, TN is scheduled to vote on a similar bill in just two weeks. This may be the beginning of sweeping change taking root in the state of Tennessee.