Black Caucus supports marijuana decriminalization efforts in Nashville, Memphis

Brenda Gilmore

Brenda Gilmore

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) is supporting efforts in the state’s two largest cities to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Metro Council in Nashville has passed on first reading a new ordinance that would lessen the penalty for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. On Tuesday, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance out of its Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and it is scheduled to be considered by the full Council in September. TBCSL Chair Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the efforts of these cities go hand-in-hand with Caucus efforts to target criminal justice reform across the state.

“We have made criminal justice reform a caucus priority and this is a perfect example of the kind of issue that needs to be discussed,” Rep. Gilmore said.

In separate letters to the leaders of both councils, Gilmore said: “Statistics have shown that the impact of these low level drug offences hits harder on poor and minority communities, saddling many with crippling criminal records and lessening their chances of employment, housing and other areas of life.

Costs to locals, states and municipalities are burdensome, law enforcement has less time to focus on more serious offences, and courts are bogged down with the handling of minor infractions.” The letter also stressed that the Black Caucus focus is on decriminalization, not making marijuana legal.

During the last legislative session, Caucus members introduced legislation to lessen penalties across the state for small amounts of marijuana possession and Gilmore promised the caucus would continue to fight for ways to ease the burden on underserved communities.

Letter from State Rep. and Chair of the TN Black Caucus, Brenda Gilmore, to the Metropolitan Council

Dear Vice-Mayor Briley and members of the Metropolitan Council:

“One of the strides that the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators has made in the last few years has been the support and passage of legislation reforming criminal justice in our state. This reform has resulted in a number of positive outcomes: changing court procedures for juveniles, eliminating restrictive criminal history on applications that can bar employment, and reducing the severity of punishment for certain crimes.

“In that vein, it is in that last area of change that we applaud our fellow local legislators, the members of the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County, for their recent vote to advance the marijuana decriminalization ordinance. Their stance mirrors that of cities and states across the country that see the need to decrease current penalties for low level marijuana possession.

“Statistics have shown that the impact of these low-level drug offenses hits harder on poor and minority communities, saddling many with crippling criminal records and lessening their chances of employment, housing and other areas of life. Costs to locals, states and municipalities are burdensome, law enforcement has less time to focus on more serious offenses, and courts are bogged down with the handling of minor infractions.

“As the proposition moves forward, please know that your legislative body has the support of our Caucus in its push to lessen the penalties of possessing or exchanging cannabis in small amounts.

“Also, it is important to remember that our focus is on decriminalization, not making marijuana legal. “This is a major issue facing cities all across our nation. How we, as elected officials, face this issue will affect citizens everywhere. Our Caucus firmly stands behind the implementation of this ordinance.”