For about a month now we’ve been following the city of Nashville on their journey to decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. As it stands now, the laws concerning possession of a half an ounce or less could leave you jailed for up to a year on a misdemeanor charge, along with up to $2500 in legal fines. As we all know, even a misdemeanor charge can get in the way of many things including employment, housing and education – and this is something that we’re trying to help young people.
The city of Nashville voted 35-3 on Tuesday, which passed a bill that will decriminalize up to half an ounce of marijuana – creating a second option for police, which would be either a $50 fine or 10 hours of community service. This makes Nashville officially the first city in Tennessee to move towards a smarter policy regarding marijuana possession; Memphis is also starting to look in this direction. For now, we can hope that this move by Nashville will be what starts a ripple effect in the state – like we’re seeing all over the country as cities continue to lessen the penalties for small possession.
“All this bill does is give police the option of not treating someone with a little pot like a hardened criminal,” Rosenberg said. “Because when you start treating good members of our society like criminals they begin acting like criminals. As much as I’d like to think we’re cutting edge on this one, we’re not,” he added. “We’re catching up.”
As it was originally written, the measure would have only given police one option – however in order to gain more support the bill it was revised to give police the option of issuing a fine or making an arrest – now the Metro Police are “neutral” on the new policies, whereas before they would not support it at all. This creates some concern – but at the same time may be a good thing as the state is considering making a move that would take away funding from cities who are not following state laws in regards to certain matters – like marijuana possession, for example.
There are also some concerns among judges about whether or not moving marijuana possession from criminal to civil court could make it harder for the records to be sealed or expunged at a later date. However, if an arrest is not made – which it is not if a civil citation is issued – it often does not remove rights to certain federal programs like Pell Grants for school, federal loan and housing programs, and even apartment and home owners associations, in the same way that an arrest and conviction would. In the end, this policy makes sense – and hopefully we continue to see cities, counties and states all move towards a more sensible policy when it comes to cannabis.
At this point, the bill goes to the mayor’s office – and they have officially said that it will get signed after originally stating that they were “not opposed” to the measure. The city also has support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee – so overall this bill seems to be pretty well received. Aside from the fact that it will still be up to the individual officer’s discretion whether or not someone receives a citation or is arrested, it’s a great start for a state that is starting to fall behind as the majority of the country moves towards reform.