The city of Nashville passed an historic law two weeks ago that gives law enforcement more discretion when deciding how to charge people in possession of marijuana.
Members of the council are now trying to sort out the details on how to track citations and marijuana arrests to prevent any potential bias that may emerge with the new law. Council members are concerned that low-income, minorities and other groups may be disproportionately charged with a misdemeanor rather than a mere civil penalty.
Under the new law, police can use their discretion to either issue a $50 civil fine to those found in possession of small amounts of marijuana, or pursue a Class A misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail. Individuals can be in possession of no more than a half-ounce of marijuana.
Councilman Bob Mendes said he will be filing a resolution that would provide guidelines on how to track the number of citations versus marijuana arrests based on gender, race and a variety of other demographics. One potential option would be track the cases through the court system, while the other option would be to self-report on cases.
The council voted 35-3 in favor of the new law, which brings the city one step closer to decriminalization. Mayor Megan Barry said the law helps address “overly punitive” possession laws that disproportionately affect minorities and low income individuals in Tennessee.
Glenn Funk, Davidson County District Attorney, raised questions of equality at a recent council meeting, citing the need for tracking demographics. Funk has proposed that the county’s Circuit Court Clerk track civil citations, while the Criminal Justice Planning office keep track of state misdemeanors.
The police department was opposed to the law initially, as the previous version required that a civil penalty be mandatory. The department switched its stance to neutral after the law gave police more discretion.
Memphis is set to vote on a similar measure on Tuesday.