Nashville is well on its way to joining a growing list of municipalities in the southern part of the United States that have eliminated the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession.
On Tuesday, the Metro Council passed a proposed ordinance seeking to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in the second of three votes needed before the proposal goes in front of Mayor Megan Barry for a signature. The proposal, which was brought to the table by Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg, will now go before the council for a final vote on September 20.
The proposed ordinance was designed in the spirit of similar measures that have been implemented over the past year in other cities and states across the nation. It would give officers with the Metro Nashville Police Department the option of issuing a $50 fine to those busted in possession of up to a half-ounce of weed rather than dragging them through the criminal justice system.
As it stands, Nashville police are forced to adhere to the laws of Tennessee, which dictate that anyone caught with up to a half-ounce of marijuana be slapped with criminal misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail and fines reaching the $2,500 mark.
Initially, the Metro Nashville Police Department came out in opposition against the measure because they feared it would force them to stop making arrests for pot possession altogether. However, earlier this week, Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson changed his tune to some degree after the wording of the proposed ordinance was slightly amended to give his officers more flexibility when dealing with this offense.
“After discussion with the sponsor, it is my understanding that this mandatory language has now been removed,” Anderson said in a statement. “Consequently, I feel comfortable in moving my position to neutral, neither opposing or advocating passage. I am comfortable that the wisdom of the council will prevail and a decision will be made that is in the best interest of Nashville.”
As long as the proposal receives final approval from the council later this month, which is expected, it stands a relatively good chance of becoming an official ordinance.
Attorney Doak Patton, who serves as President of Tennessee NORML, told MERRY JANE that since the police chief has withdrawn his opposition to the measure, he has no doubt it will pass.
“This will be historic,” he said. “Hard to believe in the heart of the Bible Belt this is happening.”
Although Mayor Barry has not yet taken an official position on the ordinance, her press secretary released a statement last month saying: the mayor “is generally supportive of efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and looks forward to hearing more about this specific proposal.”
Memphis is considering a similar ordinance, but so far, the police department has not offered any support for its passage.