The southern states are some of the hardest to bring marijuana reform to – but the city of Nashville, Tennessee is finally taking steps to put them ahead with regards to reform as a decriminalization ordinance has been proposed. It was introduced by Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg, along with two others, and it aims to amend current laws on how police should handle cannabis related incidents.
Rather than jail time, offenders with up to a half ounce of cannabis would face either a $50 fine or 10 hours of community service – having the option will be helpful for those who may not be able to afford the fine for one reason or another and it should reduce the number of those who end up incarcerated. Currently, possession of just a gram of marijuana is punishable in Nashville by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500; for possession of up to a half ounce the sentence can be up to six years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“A criminal record for a simple mistake is something that follows people around for a long time, and makes it more difficult for them to get a job, earn a living and go about their lives,” Rosenberg told News Channel 5.
The ordinance will have to pass three different readings in order for it to become a law – but if the first vote was anything to go off of then it stands a good chance of passing. The final vote from the Metro City Council in the first reading was 32-4; which shows a significant rate of approval for offering a secondary option when cannabis charges are the only ones involved. (For example, someone is pulled over with a small amount of cannabis as well as other illegal drugs – they may still be charged with possession of cannabis as well as the others.)
However, there are a few who voted against the bill due to the lack of inclusion of the Metro Police on the issue – however, Rosenberg insists that the police are aware of the ordinance and have been kept in the loop the whole time. However, it appears that they are not fans of the fact that the ordinance would force them to issue a citation instead of having the discretion to issue one or place someone under arrest when they deem it necessary. (Though an officer’s discretion is often an issue in decriminalization due to the in disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested for marijuana possession each year.)
It is only a matter of time before the ordinance will see its second and third readings and if the votes there are similar, they already have the support of the Mayor, who actually signed a petition introduced by NORML aimed at decriminalizing cannabis in Tennessee (unfortunately that initiative did not meet signature goals by the deadline and died there). With the amendment giving officers the discretion to make the call on who gets arrested and who is fined they would have the full support of the police as well – but as it stands the ordinance has a relatively good outlook and could be a big stepping stone for Nashville and the state of Tennessee.