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Nashville Considering Decriminalization

Tennessee state flag with pot leaves instead of starsThe DEA officially shut down measures to unschedule marijuana, making last week disappointing for pro-marijuana Americans nationwide. Even so, the fight for legalization rages on in both federal and local levels of government. Government officials in Nashville, for example, are currently taking legal action in an attempt to reduce penalties for marijuana-related crimes. If successful, Nashville’s citizens will have the luxury of some of the more relaxed marijuana laws in the southeast.

The Road to Decriminalization

The effort comes on behalf of three Metro Council members: Russ Pulley, Freddie O’Connell, and libertarian Dave Rosenberg. According to the current state laws, possession or casual exchange of a half-ounce of marijuana or less is punishable by $2,500 in fines and a maximum of one year behind bars. Rosenberg and his fellow council members are trying to reduce that penalty.

Under the proposed ordinance, offenders would only be fined a $50 civil penalty and charged with a misdemeanor — which is much nicer than forking over a couple thousand and going to jail. Rosenberg compares the ordinance to Metro’s take on Tennessee littering laws. People who charged for littering are rarely, if ever, forced to pick up trash for eighty hours. According to Rosenberg, the proposed legislation would similarly function as a “local parallel ordinance” to Tennessee’s stricter marijuana laws.

The council members are motivated by the war on drugs’s needless consequences. Focusing on misdemeanor crimes like simple possession or casual exchange of marijuana is a needless drain on police time and resources, and offenders have to bear the burden of a criminal record. According to O’Connell:

“The whole thing here is, can we keep somebody from starting down the road of having a criminal record just for small possession where they’re clearly not dealing? If we look at our prison system, this is one of the greatest travesties, in my opinion, of criminal justice practice over the past generation.”

This week, Metro Council will vote on the ordinance. The Mayor’s office released a tepidly supportive but noncommittal statement that translated roughly to, “We’re still thinking about it, but we probably like where this is going.”

So far, the police department is not on board. At issue is the word “shall” in the context of the ordinance, which states that offenders “shall” pay a $50 fine. Spokesman for Metro Police, Dan Aaron, is worried that this phrasing prevents officers from using discretion where it may be necessary: “There may be circumstances where an officer needs to keep something in the criminal realm.”

To accommodate police concerns, Metro Director of Law Jon Cooper and Councilman Dave Rosenberg have both voiced their willingness to adjust the controversial wording.

Simple Possession in Tennessee

Marijuana is a controlled substance, and as a controlled substance, it is illegal for U.S. citizens to have it. In Tennessee, the offense is known as “simple possession or casual exchange.”  Possession is only simple and exchange only casual, however, if the amount of marijuana is no more than half an ounce. Offenders are charged with a Class A misdemeanor and repeat offenders start earning felonies.

At Turner Law Offices, P.C., our team of attorneys has years of experience working with clients involved in a wide range of circumstances, including drug offense cases. If you or a loved one is accused of committing such a crime, the best way to protect yourself in the court of law is with trustworthy legal representation at your side. The sooner you take action, the better — so don’t wait! Call today or go online to set up your free initial consultation, and meet with a skilled lawyer who’s ready and waiting to guide you toward the justice you deserve.

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