Prosecutors in Nashville, Tennessee will no longer file criminal charges for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana, District Attorney General Glenn Funk announced on Wednesday. The change in prosecutorial policy goes into effect immediately, according to a statement from the Nashville District Attorney’s office.
“Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety,” Funk said. “Demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionality in the justice system.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper also released a statement on Wednesday, saying that he supports Funk’s decision.
“I support the DA’s decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana offenses in Davidson County. We need to continue working to ensure that people have access to drug treatment and that we are doing everything we can to keep nonviolent young people out of the criminal justice system,” Cooper said.
Metro Nashville Police Department Chief Steve Anderson was less enthusiastic about the policy change, saying that while the officers in his department do have some discretion in deciding to make an arrest or other enforcement action such as issuing a citation, they cannot ignore the law.
“I agree that General Funk, as District Attorney, has the authority to determine what cases to prosecute,” Anderson said. “Marijuana possession remains a violation of Tennessee law, and we cannot be in a position of telling our officers to begin ignoring lawful statutes passed by the legislature. Nashville police officers continue to be encouraged to use their discretion in carrying out their duties, as guided by MNPD policy.”
Criticism From The Right
Republican state Rep. John Stevens was opposed to the change and called on Funk to resign.
“A blanket policy to not enforce the law is dereliction of duty and a subversive act akin to treason,” Stevens said in a statement. “The determination that marijuana possession is a ‘minor’ offense is a policy judgment out of the power and authority of the elected District Attorney. Either do your job or resign.”
But Nashville’s top district attorney said in an interview that making sure that the law is enforced equally is part of his job.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us in the criminal justice arena to look for ways to make sure the system is fair, and this seems to me a pretty obvious policy change that needed to happen,” Funk said in an interview. “We all need to be introspective about our policies and procedures.”
Erica Perry of the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition, a union of civil rights groups, said that the decision not to prosecute charges of possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana is a good starting point, but called on prosecutors to go further.
“While the district attorney is attempting to show good effort, we also want to go further,” Perry said. “Can you decriminalize and stop prosecuting sex workers? Can you stop prosecuting any amount of drugs? That is important.”