The Nashville Metro Council will voting this Tuesday for the third and final time on a proposal that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Nashville. Right now possession of marijuana in Nashville is a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail and a $250 fine. If the proposal passes, Nashville police would have the discretion to issue a $50 fine instead of arresting a person caught with up to 14.175 grams.
When the proposal was first introduced, a fine (rather than an arrest) was automatic. However, after law enforcement expressed concerns, the bill was amended to give law enforcement the discretion to issue a fine or arrest. The language that will be voted on is as follows:
SUBSTITUTE ORDINANCE NO. BL2016-378
An ordinance to amend Title 11 of the Metropolitan Code to institute a civil penalty for possession of one-half (½) ounce of marijuana or less.
WHEREAS, Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-418(a) & (b) makes it a misdemeanor for individuals to knowingly possess or casually exchange a small amount of marijuana not in excess of one-half (½) ounce; and
WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Council finds that when an individual’s only offense is possession of marijuana, law enforcement should be afforded the discretion to determine whether criminal penalties and criminal records are disproportionate to the severity of the offense; and
WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Council finds that civil penalties and community service may be commensurate with the offense of possession of one-half (½) ounce or less of marijuana when that is the only chargeable offense.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY:
Section 1. That Chapter 11.32 of the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Code is hereby amended by creating a new section to read as follows:
11.32.030 – Possession of Marijuana in Certain Amounts
A. It is an offense for a person to knowingly possess a small amount of marijuana not in excess of one-half (½) ounce (14.175 grams).
B. A police officer shall have the authority to issue a civil citation to persons found in violation of this section. The amount of the civil penalty shall be fifty dollars for each violation. The court may, in its discretion, suspend the civil penalty imposed under this subsection if the person found liable agrees to and does in fact perform such community service as the court deems appropriate, up to ten hours.
Section 2. That this Ordinance shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.
The measure was sponsored by Metro Council members Dave Rosenberg, Russ Pulley, Freddie O’Connell, Scott Davis, Karen Johnson, Nancy VanReece, and Erica Gilmore. Considering that the measure is on its final reading, and it has either the support of major stakeholders or at least a neutral stance from them, I would expect this measure to become law. It will be interesting to see how the State of Tennessee reacts. Hopefully it’s not a replay of the situation that unfolded in Wichita, Kansas which had a decriminalization measure nullified by the Kansas Supreme Court because state law trumped local law. And because state officials in Kansas were/are lame.