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TN City Takes Steps to Take Crime Out of Pot

Nashville's Metro Council is considering a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. (Torben Hansen/flickr.com)
Nashville's Metro Council is considering a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. (Torben Hansen/flickr.com)
August 22, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As it stands, getting caught with marijuana in Tennessee could leave you with a criminal record or even jail time. But a measure to decriminalize the drug has made it through one vote at Nashville's Metro Council.

While legalizing pot is a hard sell to some, the push to decriminalize the substance has picked up steam in cities and states across the country, according to Kate Bell, legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The greatest harm associated with the consumption of marijuana is getting a criminal record for it,” Bell said. “Decriminalization is essentially the removal of criminal penalties. So it's still illegal, but it's treating it more like a parking or a traffic ticket."

Twenty states have passed laws to stop jailing those possessing small amounts of marijuana, at least for a first offense. In Tennessee, possession of any amount of marijuana can result in up to a year in prison and as much as $2,500 in fines.

Opponents to the measure said it would eliminate a strong deterrent against breaking the law.

While convincing southern lawmakers to legalize pot can feel like heavy lifting, Bell said, there is much less resistance in the general public, where views on marijuana have shifted.

"It is absolutely true that the population in the United States is far, far ahead of the politicians on this issue,” Bell said. “And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people have realized that this is a much safer alternative to alcohol."

Neighboring states Mississippi and North Carolina have passed laws that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

More information on marijuana laws in Tennessee, visit mpp.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN