NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — 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.
“That does not mean if you come into Davidson County and you have a half ounce of marijuana or below that you are safe. You get pulled over by the wrong officer, you can still get handcuffed, you can still go to jail,” councilman Steve Glover told News 2.
“We are sending a very bad message, in my opinion, to the people of Nashville, saying ‘Hey, it is okay to go do this now.’ It is not okay to go do it. You can still be arrested. There’s still the same consequences tomorrow that there were this morning when we got up,” Glover added.
“It is a civil penalty. It doesn’t take away anything that they have right now, but it also gives the opportunity for people who make mistakes to go through life without the criminal record hanging over their head,” said councilman Russ Pulley.
“It gives them the opportunity to deal with a mistake by a young person or someone else carrying a small amount of marijuana differently than they do now,” Pulley told News 2.
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,” the ACLU-TN added. “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.”