The possibility of jail-time for possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana would become a thing of the past under a proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly by two Nashville Democrats.
Sponsored by Rep. Harold Love, Jr. and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the legislation — HB0873/SB1211 — would also reduce the penalty for owning up to an ounce of cannabis to a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $100.
Currently, possessing small amounts of marijuana carries up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. That’s the same as a conviction for domestic abuse, assault or theft.
Love, who also serves as the presiding elder of Nashville’s St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, told TNReport he’s sponsoring the measure because it doesn’t make sense to him that the penalty for being caught with an ounce of marijuana is the same under current law as possessing ten pounds.
He noted that Tennessee is in the midst of a long-range policy discussion about the rising societal costs and increasing fiscal impacts associated with incarcerating otherwise nonviolent lawbreakers.
“The concern is, number one, reducing the prison population rolls,” said Love. “Secondly, allowing persons to not have felonies on their record, and then also having a penalty that kind of mirrors the crime.”
The measure is sponsored in the Senate by freshman Nashville Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the upper chamber’s Democratic Caucus chairman.
No hearings for the legislation have been scheduled yet.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a non-profit cannabis legalization advocacy group, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana possession, including Mississippi and North Carolina.
Love said as far as he knows, this is the first time there’s been an attempt to decriminalize marijuana in Tennessee.
While he doesn’t think the “political climate” is ready for full-on cannabis legalization in the Volunteer State, he thinks his bill — which he also emphasized was not a step on the path to legalization — has a place alongside a couple medical marijuana-related measures up for consideration this session.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, have introduced legislation — HB0197/SB0280 — to redefine “marijuana” to “exempt low-THC cannabis oil obtained in another state.” The cannabis oil, known as Realm Oil or Alepsia, is high in cannabidiol (CBD), and is used to treat epileptic seizures in toddlers and small children.
Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis have introduced the Medical Cannabis Access Act — HB0561/SB0660 — to allow Tennesseans with certain medical ailments and a doctor’s permission to use cannabis to treat their maladies. The Jones/Kyle measure has been touted as a nullification bill by the Tenth Amendment Center, an advocacy group that promotes state sovereignty.