Although support for marijuana reform has historically been less than favorable in the state of Tennessee, a few city council members in Nashville have taken leadership on the issue by introducing a modest proposal aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with minor pot possession.
On Tuesday, the council puts its initial seal of approval on a measure that would make the possession or casual exchange of up to a half-ounce of weed punishable with a $50 fine rather than jail. The measure, which was brought to the table by Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg and two others, also comes with a secondary option that would allow the offender to pay off his or her debt to society through 10 hours of community service.
The goal of the proposal is to prevent people from being marred by a criminal record for possessing a plant that is now legal in half the nation, while putting police resources to work in more important areas.
“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.
While reports show that it is not uncommon for a proposed ordinance to be passed through Nashville’s legislative gatekeepers on a first reading, it is somewhat encouraging that one involving the reform of the city’s marijuana laws was met with majority approval. But that’s not to say the measure is not being met with some stiff resistance.
Four of the council members voted against the proposal last night due to concerns that the city has not involved the Metro Nashville Police Department in the decision. Similar measures have been opposed by the local police force because the cops would like the ability to exercise their own discretion when determining whether to haul a pot offender off to jail rather than be forced by governmental controls to issue a ticket. Yet supporters of the ordinance argue that they have included the police in the details of the decriminalization plan and will work with them more to ensure everyone is on the same page.
For now, however, it appears Metro Police are not exactly big fans of how the ordinance is designed. A spokesperson for the department by the name of Don Aaron confirmed with The Tennessean that police have issues with the language of the proposal because “there may be circumstances where an officer needs to keep something in the criminal realm.” But it appears as long as the ordinance is amended to give officers “discretion,” it could gain their support.
But does the ordinance really stand a fighting chance at making it on the books in 2016?
Attorney Doak Patton, who serves as President of Tennessee NORML, told HIGH TIMES that Music City’s decriminalization proposal could go the distance this year, “but there is resistance from some of the older councilmen.”
“Now is the time we need all Nashville to contact their members and let them know how they feel,” he said. “I promise you the lobbyist from private prisons has already done this.”
If local lawmakers and Metro police can manage to come to terms on the issue, it is likely that Nashville will join other progressive cities in the South that longer consider marijuana possession a criminal act. That’s because Nashville Mayor Megan Barry appears to be onboard with the ordinance. Her press secretary issued a statement last week suggesting that the mayor “is still reviewing the proposed ordinance and its implications but is generally supportive of efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and looks forward to hearing more about this specific proposal.”
Patton said that Mayor Barry signed Tennessee NORML’s petition last year aimed at decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana. Unfortunately, that effort fell a few thousand signatures short of meeting the requirements to be placed on the ballot in city’s August election.
The ordinance now goes before the council committee for further consideration.