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Nashville's DA will no longer prosecute minor marijuana possession charges

Nashville's DA will no longer prosecute minor marijuana possession charges
Posted at 5:59 AM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-02 09:16:45-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville District Attorney's Office will no longer prosecute those who have been charged for possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana.

"Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety," District Attorney Glenn Funk said Wednesday in an announcement on the policy change. "Demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionately in the justice system."

View the arrests for marijuana categorized by race here.

The DA's office said eliminating minor marijuana charges will lower costs for jail housing, courts and clerk's offices. The resources that would have been used to prosecute those charges will be allocated to supporting victims and prosecuting violent crime.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement that he supports the change in policy.

"I support the DA's decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana offenses in Davidson County. We need to continue working to ensure that people have access to drug treatment and that we are doing everything we can to keep nonviolent young people out of the criminal justice system," Cooper said.

Last fall, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sent a memo to law enforcement across the state that said testing in marijuana cases would "only be performed on felony amounts of plant material and at the District Attorney's request if needed for trial."

While the memo did not decriminalize marijuana, defense attorneys said they would be less likely to pursue prosecution for those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

The Nashville People's Budget Coalition — a coalition of civil rights groups in the ciry — reacted to Wednesday's policy update, saying Funk's decision could be a beginning of meaningful change, but they want to see more.

"While the district attorney is attempting to show good effort, we also want to go further," Erica Perry said. "Can you decriminalize and stop prosecuting sex workers? Can you stop prosecuting any amount of drugs? That is important."

Funk's decision prompted State Rep. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, to call for the DA's resignation.

"A blanket policy to not enforce the law is dereliction of duty and a subversive act akin to treason," Stevens said in a statement, in part. "The determination that marijuana possession is a 'minor; offense is a policy judgment out of the power and authority of the elected District Attorney. Either do your job or resign."

This story was originally published by Caroline Sutton on WTVF in Nashville.