By: Nabil Rodriguez and Victor Fox*
On July 1, 2020, Nashville District Attorney’s office (the “DA”) released a statement indicating that its office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession charges for less than half an ounce in Davidson County, Tennessee. In the letter, District Attorney Glenn Funk outlines several policy reasons behind the decision such as disproportionately impacted minority communities, decreasing jail costs, promoting judicial economy, and avoiding collateral consequences on employment and housing for offenders.
In the official statement, Funk stated, “[m]arijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety.” Additionally, the DA also emphasized, “Finally, and of great importance, demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionality in the justice system.”
The announcement comes as a surprise when considering Tennessee’s previous actions regarding marijuana offenses. In 2016, both Nashville and Memphis attempted to alleviate minor marijuana possession charges by replacing arrests with civil citations. However, the move was shut down via a Republican supermajority General Assembly. Moreover, in 2017 the Tennessee General Assembly doubled down on this stance by banning cities from issuing civil citations for marijuana possession. Currently, under Tennessee law possession of a half-ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper expressed his support for the change stating, “[w]e need to continue working to ensure that people have access to drug treatment and that we are doing everything we can to keep nonviolent young people out of the criminal justice system.”
Fortunately, Nashville is not the only jurisdiction seeking to alleviate marijuana possession penalties. The Ohio senate recently voted in favor of expanding decriminalization policies by doubling the amount of marijuana an individual may possess without receiving jail time. Furthermore, Virginia’s recently passed HB 972, which decriminalizes marijuana possession of up to one ounce, officially took effect on July 1, 2020.
Hopefully, surrounding counties and states will take notice of the positive effects these policy changes will have on communities. For any further questions regarding this or similar marijuana policies, contact a Greenspoon Marder attorney today.
*Victor Fox is not yet an attorney