Nashville DA says low-level cannabis prosecutions will be halted

Thor Benson

Nashville, Tenn. District Attorney Glenn Funk has announced the city will no longer be filing criminal charges against residents who are caught with less than half of an ounce of cannabis. The DA said that prosecuting these cases is not in the public interest and disproportionately harms communities of color.

“Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety,” Funk said. “Demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionality in the justice system.”

Violet Cavendish, communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Cannabis News Box that she’s seeing more and more cities making this kind of change in policing tactics.

“The decision made by city officials to no longer prosecute low-level cannabis offenses is becoming more common and Nashville now joins that growing list,” Cavendish said. “Cities across the country, including Austin, St. Louis, Columbus, and Baltimore, have taken similar actions to deprioritize cannabis offenses or end prosecutions of low-level cannabis offenses.”

Cavendish said the COVID-19 pandemic is making it especially important that police departments focus on more serious crimes, because arresting someone for cannabis possession can cause them to be more likely to contract the virus. Though this change is a positive step for Nashville, she said Tennessee still has a long way to go when it comes to changing its cannabis policies.

“Tennessee remains behind the times when it comes to cannabis policy reform. It is one of the remaining 17 states that lacks a comprehensive medical cannabis law and the legislature went so far as prohibiting cities from decriminalizing marijuana after Nashville and Memphis attempted to do so in 2016,” Cavendish said. “The state doesn’t allow for a voter initiative process, which leaves the fate of legalization in the hands of the elected officials and history has shown that getting these lawmakers on board will be a tough battle. However, it’s an election year so it’s possible that more cannabis-friendly lawmakers are elected which would help move the ball forward in the 2021 legislative session.”

Legalization is slowly gaining momentum in the South, so Tennessee could become a legal state sooner than later, but that’ll depend on the makeup of the state’s legislature going forward. In the meantime, cities may continue to move at a faster pace than the state’s they’re located in.