Proposed Nashville ordinance reduces pot penalties

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An ordinance (proposed) in Nashville seeks to reduce the penalty for people caught possessing or exchanging small amounts of marijuana.

The Tennessean ( ) reports that under the new ordinance, people who possess or exchange a half-ounce of marijuana or less would face a civil penalty of $50. A court could also choose to suspend the civil penalty and order 10 hours of community service. Current state law calls for a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year behind bars and a $2,500 fine.

Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the current law is time-consuming for police since they have to arrest people over a marijuana misdemeanor. He also called the current state law unproductive and “needlessly expensive.”

“This has been an issue that has been moving nationwide from Florida to Washington as our society has come to understand that the most harmful effect of marijuana is marijuana laws,” he said.

Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said the police department opposes the new law because the ordinance’s language removes discretion from officers.

Aaron noted a section of the ordinance that states that violators “shall” be issued a citation for a civil penalty. He said the use of the word “shall” removes discretion.

“There are situations where discretion is needed for law enforcement purposes,” he said. “There may be circumstances where an officer needs to keep something in the criminal realm.”

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s spokesman Sean Braisted said the mayor is reviewing the ordinance and is generally supportive of efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

The city council will consider the ordinance on the first of three votes next week.