What does the new law mean for you?
Metro Council has passed a bill that would decriminalize possession or casual exchange of small amounts of marijuana in Nashville. The bill, which can be read in its entirety here, passed its third and final reading on Tuesday night with a vote of 35-3.
Final Steps to Decriminalization
The Mayor’s signature is the final step before the bill becomes effective. The Mayor must approve or disapprove the legislation before the next Council meeting, on October 4th. If the Mayor does not veto the législation or simply refuses to sign it, the legislation will become effective without the Mayor's signature.
What Cannabis Decriminalization Means for Nashville
Councilman Dave Rosenberg, the lead sponsor of the bill, said, "All this bill does is give police the option of not treating someone with a little pot like a hardened criminal.”
Decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana does not mean that it is legal. It simply means that the punishment for possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana is confined to civil penalties (i.e. we want your money) rather than criminal punishment (i.e. we want your money and your freedom).
As best summed up by Nashville’s mayor, Mayor Barry, in her comment to the Tennessean on the recent passage of the ordinance: “It is important to stress that this ordinance is not a license to sell, possess or use marijuana in Nashville.”
IMPORTANTLY the soon-to-be enacted ordinance does not prevent an metro officer, in their police discretion, from arresting or citing a citizen with the criminal offense of possession of marijuana – which is an A Misdemeanor under Tennessee law that is punishable by up to one year in jail and $2,500 fine. Instead, the new ordinance enables metro officers to assess each individual case when deciding how to police an individual in possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana.
The execution of this new legislation will certainly present several challenges to local residents. One such challenge is the following question: Will State Troopers also have the option to give violators the lesser civil penalty?
Goal of the Bill
While the bill aims to prevent the creation of criminal records for minor offenses, an adverse public record will still be created, albeit a civil one. Civil records generally do not have the same damaging impact as a conviction on a criminal record, however, civil records can only be expunged (erased) when a matter is dismissed or is not prosecuted, according to Metro code. Judges who hear these violations have the discretion to resolve them in dismissal, which would allow the violations to be expunged under the current code. For example, a judge could dismiss the civil case after seeing proof that the fine was paid or the community service completed. Councilman Rosenberg said if expunging the civil records becomes a problem in the future, he will propose follow-up legislation.
Keep in Mind...
Even though Nashville has decriminalized pot there are still consequences associated with possessing marijuana, so do not go all Cheech and Chong just yet.
If you are arrested for any drug crime including the possession of marijuana, you should still contact a Nashville criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and ensure the most favorable outcome.