The city of Nashville, Tennessee, passed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance earlier this week. On Tuesday, city leaders voted 35-3 in favor of allowing lesser civil penalties for anyone in possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Under the Nashville marijuana decriminalization rule, police will have the option of issuing a fine up to $50 or a community service penalty to someone caught with a half-ounce of pot or less.
“All this bill does is give police the option of not treating someone with a little pot like a hardened criminal,” said Councilman David Rosenberg, the lead sponsor of the measure. “Because when you start treating good members of our society like criminals they begin acting like criminals.”
The passage of the ordinance puts the city more in line with a growing number of other communities that have decriminalized pot across the nation. Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Miami are just a few of the cities that currently have marijuana decriminalization statutes already on the books.
“As much as I’d like to think we’re cutting edge on this one, we’re not,” Rosenberg added. “We’re catching up.”
The Nashville marijuana decriminalization measure now needs to be signed by Mayor Megan Barry before it can be implemented. As reported by The Tennessean, she plans to approve the rule later this week.
“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,” Barry said in a statement.
While possession of small amounts of marijuana is essentially decriminalized, it remains illegal to sell or use pot in Nashville. Law enforcement officers will still have the authority to arrest or issue criminal citations for cannabis possession if the circumstances warrant such action. Despite the city’s marijuana ordinance, cannabis possession is a Class A misdemeanor under Tennessee law with punishments that include up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Council member Steve Glover voted against the Nashville marijuana decriminalization measure. He believes the ordinance will cause confusion and send the wrong message to citizens and law enforcement officers.
“We are sending a very bad message, in my opinion, to the people of Nashville, saying ‘Hey, it is okay to go do this now.’ It is not okay to go do it. You can still be arrested. There’s still the same consequences tomorrow that there were this morning when we got up,” Glover told WKRN News 2.
Advocates of Nashville’s marijuana decriminalization law believe officers will be able to dedicate more time to serious offenses instead of dealing with simple marijuana possession crimes. Should an officer issue a civil citation instead of making an arrest, someone caught with a small amount of pot would potentially avoid a criminal record. The ordinance could help an offender escape the lifelong negative costs typically associated with a criminal conviction.
“For far too long, thousands of Nashvillians —including a disproportionate number of black residents — have been arrested for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana,” stated the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN). “These arrests have led to disastrous consequences for their lives, including the loss of job, education and housing opportunities.”
Supporters also hope the ordinance will send a message to state legislators that it is time to decriminalize cannabis at the state level. However, Tennessee lawmakers are not likely anytime soon to consider such a decriminalization measure. Some are even proposing bills that would penalize cities with marijuana decriminalization ordinances by withholding highway funds until they overturn their policies.
Another Tennessee city, Memphis, is currently considering a similar marijuana decriminalization ordinance and will make a final decision by October 4. Nashville is the first city in the state to pass a measure that decriminalizes the drug.
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