Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk says his office will no longer prosecute people for possessing half an ounce or less of marijuana, following similar steps taken by prosecutors in several other jurisdictions around the country.
In a written statement on the policy, the district attorney's office says that minor marijuana charges "do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety."
More on the policy from that statement:
For individuals, this policy will eliminate the negative effects of a criminal charge which include potential jail time and collateral consequences on employment and housing. For the justice system, elimination of minor marijuana charges will decrease costs as jail housing expenses for these cases will now be totally eliminated. Similarly, courts and the clerk’s office will see savings from docketing fewer cases. Finally, and of great importance, demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionality in the justice system. Proper allocation of the resources of the District Attorney’s office requires common sense and fairness. These resources must be devoted to supporting victims and prosecuting violent crime.
In 2016, the Metro Council approved an ordinance creating a civil penalty for possessing or exchanging a half-ounce of marijuana, giving police officers an option other than criminal charges in such cases. However, that ordinance — and a similar one in Memphis — was deemed unenforceable by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and later nullified by the state legislature.
A little more than a year ago, after Baltimore's top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that she would stop prosecuting marijuana possession, Funk told the Scene that his office worked to avoid incarcerating people for simple marijuana possession and tried to minimize the collateral consequences of such charges.
In an interview with the Scene on Wednesday, Funk addressed questions about his new policy. He first clarified that while his office will dismiss simple marijuana possession cases, they cannot keep police officers from making arrests. That said, he noted that such charges have decreased in recent years. He added that in discussions with Metro Nashville Police Department leaders he “has not sensed any significant pushback on this policy.”
Mayor John Cooper also backed the policy in a written statement.
"I support the DA’s decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana offenses in Davidson County," Cooper said. "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."
Funk said that his office will dismiss such minor marijuana charges whether they involve someone possessing marijuana or smoking it. However, he said: "If someone is smoking marijuana in a public place and is creating some type of nuisance that can be described as disorderly, we may prosecute for disorderly conduct. But we will not prosecute for the marijuana."
Asked about people who have been charged for simple possession in the past, Funk said there is no one currently in the Metro jail serving time solely for simple possession of marijuana.
"With regards to any expungements, we're open to working with defense counsel or citizens that have marijuana cases on their record, and if those cases can be expunged under current state law then we will work with them to get those charges expunged."