The city of Nashville became the first in the state of Tennessee to lessen the penalty for small amounts of marijuana Tuesday night.
In a 35-3 vote, the Metro Council approved the bill that allows officers to give someone a $50 fine and community service if they are found with less than a half-ounce of marijuana.
This changes the current laws where people charged with marijuana possession face a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
However, the new law also allows Metro-Nashville police officers to use their discretion in a case-by-case basis. If an officer catches someone with half an ounce or less of pot, they can opt to give them the lesser penalties under the new law or the misdemeanor charge.
Mayor Megan Barry released the following statement on the passage of BL2016-378, commonly referred to as the marijuana decriminalization bill: “This legislation is a positive step forward in addressing the overly punitive treatment of marijuana possession in our state that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority residents,” said Barry.
“It is important to stress that this ordinance is not a license to sell, possess, or use marijuana in Nashville. When this ordinance becomes law, police officers will still have the ability to make arrests or issue state criminal citations for marijuana possession as circumstances warrant, which is a Class A misdemeanor under state law.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) said it applauds the Metro Council’s decision, calling it a “smarter approach to marijuana possession.”
“For far too long, thousands of Nashvillians (including a disproportionate number of Black residents) have been arrested for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana. These arrests have led to disastrous consequences for their lives, including the loss of job, education and housing opportunities,” according to the ACLU-TN. “This ordinance could significantly reduce the costly incarceration rate for this low-level violation, freeing law enforcement to focus on addressing violent crime and keeping our community safer.”