The Nashville City Council voted to ease the city’s regulations regarding the possession and exchange of cannabis, decreasing penalties that have been among the more restrictive in the country.
The council voted 35-3 to impose the new city ordinance, which would slap offenders possessing or exchanging up to a half-ounce of cannabis with a $50 fine, with also the possibility of $50 of community service. It is the second time that the council has voted on the measure.
“We’re not decriminalizing,” said City Councilmember Dave Rosenberg (District 35). “We’re not removing state law that makes it a criminal offense. It’s just another option and what the legislature decides to do in the future and we’ll see.”
State law has currently stipulated that cannabis offenders face up to $2,500 in fines and up to a year in prison.
The measure had attracted vocal support from politicians around the state, including the Tennessee Black Caucus, many of the members of which had been outspoken before the vote about favoring its passage.
“We have crimes that make you mad, and we have crimes that make you scared. Our focus needs to be on the crimes that make you scared,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, whose support is part of a larger push to decriminalize cannabis statewide.
The measure also received support from Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who applauded the bill as a “positive step forward” in addressing the disproportionately high numbers of low-income and minority residents who were targeted as a result of the city’s laws surrounding cannabis.
The mayor was careful, however, to stipulate that the initiative was not meant as a gateway to legalized cannabis.
“It is important to stress that this ordinance is not a license to sell, possess, or use marijuana in Nashville,” the mayor said. “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 issue of decriminalization has received stiff opposition from members of the state government, including State Representative William Lamberth, who threatened to withhold Memphis and Nashville’s state highway funds if they followed through on passage of decriminalization measures. Such action would cost Memphis around $129 million.
The measure faces one more reading in October before the City Council before it may become law.
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