Lawmakers in Tennessee have taken steps to reform the state’s antiquated pot laws with the filing of a set of bills aimed at decriminalizing the possession and distribution of small amounts of marijuana.
Earlier last week, Senator Jeff Yarbro and Representative Harold Love introduced companion bills (House Bill 873 and Senate Bill 1211) in both chambers of the state legislature that would strip away the criminal penalties associated with the possession and “casual exchange” of up to an ounce of marijuana by replacing them with a fine.
Unfortunately, while the bills would do nothing in the way of establishing a taxed and regulated cannabis market, or even allow for home cultivation, they would amend the criminal statutes that make first-time possession of up to a half ounce of weed a Class A misdemeanor, which is currently punishable with a year in prison and fine up to $250.
Under the new law, anyone caught in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would simply be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and be forced to pay a $100 fine.
The proposed changes to the law would also permit the “casual exchange” of up to an ounce of marijuana, which would make it legal for a person to provide their friends and family with weed as long as no money changed hands. Nothing in regards to the manufacture and sale of cannabis would be amended by this legislation – these crimes would remain felony offenses with the potential for hefty prison terms for anyone convicted.
However, marijuana activists across the state say they are encouraged by the introduction of these bills and expect more to follow. “Lawmakers are seeing that the public has changed their minds and are now getting on board with us,” said Doak Patton, with Tennessee NORML, in a recent interview with High Times. “Tennessee is getting in line with the other states that are adopting a smarter approach to law enforcement and public safety.”
Indeed, decriminalization measures similar to what has been proposed in Tennessee have already proved successful across the United States. Recent reports indicate that pot-related arrests in Philadelphia have dropped 88 percent since the city made the decision to decriminalize. “We might safely say Philly saved $627,000 in 60 days under the new decriminalization policy. That puts the city on track to save $3.75 million over the course of a year,” according to Philly.com.
As a result, newly-elected Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently said he plans to support legislation to decriminalize marijuana statewide — a measure projected to save the state and estimated $26 million.
Although it is difficult to predict just how well the Republican-dominated Tennessee Legislature will receive the proposal to decriminalize marijuana across the state, sources indicate that even a minute level of reform will be a struggle.