Bill reducing marijuana penalties clears committee

A Republican-sponsored bill that would make three or more convictions for simple possession or casual exchange of marijuana a misdemeanor rather than a felony passed a key hurdle on Tuesday, reports The Tennessean.

With a unanimous 9-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill (SB1572) that would make changes to the prosecution of those found guilty of possessing marijuana and other controlled substances three or more times.

The move is expected to decrease the state’s incarceration costs by as much as $2 million, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The change comes as part of a package deal. The heart of the bill was actually centered on enhancing the state’s DUIs laws.

Current law hands out a Class E felony to any person with four of more DUI convictions. The bill would alter the state’s law and give a Class C felony to anyone with six or more DUI convictions.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, Tennessee annually averages about 456 convictions for four or more DUIs. If the changes proposed in the bill were implemented, the state’s correction system would increase by 61 people, including estimates for population growth.

Factoring in recidivism rates, the fiscal note found that the state could reasonably expect 34 additional offenders, which would cost $1.6 million, to enter Tennessee’s correctional system each year as a result of the DUI changes.

With that in mind, the bill’s sponsors — Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown — amended it to include the changes to the state’s prosecution of offenses involving the possession of controlled substances.

Passage of the bill would actually result in a $342,600 decrease in incarcerations, according to the fiscal note.

“In order to reduce the fiscal effects of the bill it does reduce the simple possession or casual exchange of a controlled substance,” McNally said while introducing the bill.

Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance and they don’t possess it for delivery or sale, said Brent Cooper, District Attorney General for the 22nd Judicial District.