Nashville’s Metro Council has voted to advance a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The southern music town, located in Tennessee, has had a majority of support from council members in moving forward with a decriminalized marijuana bill that would change possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civic fine. As of now, possession of any amount of marijuana can lead to a misdemeanor with up to a year of jail time and a $2,500 fine. The proposed decriminalized marijuana bill would simply fine individuals $50 or 10 hours of community service.
Reasons Favoring Decriminalization
Marijuana possession charges can ruin a person’s whole life. A misdemeanor on their record may prevent the individual from getting work or housing in the future on top of the cost of losing a year of work in jail and the $2,500 fine. A person may never recover from this kind of punishment for doing something that is such a small offense, if one can even call inhaling a harmless herb an offense; especially at a stage when marijuana is already legal in half the country. The city’s lawmakers feel that the city funds would be better spent on real issues rather than paying the law enforcement, court and jail costs for such a harmless crime.
Opposition to Decriminalized Marijuana in Nashville
While many are onboard in supporting this bill, 4 council members were not so enthusiastic. Their concern was for police and the Metro Police’s position on the bill. The main issue the police seem to have is that they’d like the discretion to charge someone if they feel like it. Don Aaron, a spokesperson from the police department, told The Tennessean, “There may be circumstances where an officer needs to keep something in the criminal realm.” In other cities that have decriminalized marijuana, one of the major reasons that decriminalization became so important was because it eliminated police discretion.
The Meaning of Police Discretion
Statistically, police all over the country are much more likely to arrest and charge someone who is black or Hispanic than white. This “discretionary action” occurs even in places where more or just as many white people smoke marijuana. Police “discretion” on the matter seems to equate more to them having the license to exercise racism and lock more black and Hispanic people away. Why would discretion be necessary for a law that is so clear cut? Less than half an ounce results in a fine while over half an ounce is illegal. There is no discretion needed, it is very straightforward. Regardless of any issues surrounding police discrimination, the sponsor of the bill, Councilman Dave Rosenburg, said he is willing to work with police to give the bill a language they are comfortable with.
Nashville’s mayor Megan Barry seems to be in support of the bill. Her press secretary said in a statement 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.”
Doak Patton, who is an attorney and President of Tennessee NORML, the non-profit organization that’s working to reform marijuana laws, is pleading for residents of Nashville to contact their local council people and pledge their support for this bill.