It was almost a month ago that a measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana passed its first reading in Nashville, Tennessee. Introduced by Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg, the ordinance aims to give police an alternative to arrest, jail and fines when it comes to possession of a half an ounce or less of cannabis. Currently, half an ounce or less would land you up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500 – if the ordinance passes, it would allow police the option to fine the offender $50, or mandate 10 hours of community service.
Originally, the ordinance did not allow police discretion when it came to whether or not to issue a citation or make an arrest. However, there was an extreme lack of support from the Metro Police department for that exact reason. During the second reading, the ordinance was amended to allow police the discretion they asked for in hopes of support – and it worked. Though there is concern that allowing police discretion could allow for discrimination against minorities (which is clearly a problem with marijuana arrests regardless), at least they would have the option to issue a citation instead.
“This ordinance is an important and smart step towards criminal justice reform in Nashville. It offers a common sense alternative to criminal prosecution for what amounts to a minor offense, and allows those cited to avoid the often harsh and lifelong consequences drug convictions can have for someone in areas of housing, education and employment. If utilized, it will also provide a small measure of much-needed relief to our overburdened criminal justice system, and allow police, prosecutors, judges, clerks and public defenders to focus more resources on issues directly related to public safety and improved services.” – Metro Public Defender Dawn Deaner
After passing the second reading and gaining the approval of the Metro Police, the ordinance will see a final reading on September 20th – if it passes there, Nashville could be the next city on a long list of cities and counties, even states, who have decided to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. Noting that an arrest for something so insignificant can severely impact a person for the rest of their life, decriminalization – fines and community service, rather than jail time – is starting to become the norm across the country.
“There’s a large criminal justice reform conversation going on now and there’s a large national conversation that is changing around this particular issue,” said Green Hills-area Councilman Russ Pulley, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Unfortunately, the only downside for Nashville is that they don’t necessarily have the full support of the Mayor – yet. As it stands now, the mayor’s office has not taken a stance on the ordinance – but Mayor Megan Barry has said that she is “generally supportive of efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana”. All in all, it looks like Nashville is set and people there hopefully won’t have to fear arrest for possession of small amounts of cannabis for much longer.