NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Nashville District Attorney’s office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana, District Attorney Glenn Funk announced on Wednesday.
“Effective today, the Nashville District Attorney’s office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety,” Funk said in the statement.
It’s a move that has criminal justice reform advocates rejoicing.
“I’m glad he’s finally jumping on board,” said attorney Derreck Scretchen. “It’s a good move. Is it a baby step? Yes.”
Scretchen has been a criminal defense attorney in Nashville for 23 years.
“We have to acknowledge that the war on drugs, as I stated earlier, was just ferocious in its impact on the Black community, that’s number one,” said Scretchen. “Anything to alleviate that is something I’m in favor of.”
Scretchen said the number of cases tied to small marijuana offenses are numerous.
According to data from the Metro Office of Criminal Justice Planning, about twice as many Black people were cited or arrested for possession than White people. Overall the number of arrests has declined as well.
“I just had one yesterday. That’s probably the biggest type of case that you have,” said Scretchen.
He feels that it’s time the justice system is revamped, on a local and state level, especially when it comes to non-violent offenses, like small marijuana possession.
“They prevent you from living in certain places. You can’t get student loans. You’re now a felon,” said Scretchen. “What branches out from that initial drug conviction, I see those consequences sometimes 20 years later. I must say that, anything that we can do to prevent that initial introduction into the criminal just system is something that I’m in favor of.”
Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson issued a statement on Funk’s announcement on Wednesday.
“I agree that General Funk, as District Attorney, has the authority to determine what cases to prosecute. Marijuana possession remains a violation of Tennessee law, and we cannot be in a position of telling our officers to begin ignoring lawful statutes passed by the legislature. Nashville police officers continue to be encouraged to use their discretion in carrying out their duties, as guided by MNPD policy.”
The MNPD manual provides:
Officer Discretion: An officer’s discretion is an essential function of effective law enforcement. The totality of the circumstances should be considered when determining the necessary actions to resolve each situation. Officers must rely on training, departmental policies and procedures, statutory law and supervisors to make the appropriate decision.
Alternatives to Arrest: What is reasonable in terms of appropriate police action or what constitutes probable cause varies with each situation. Different facts may justify either an investigation, search, arrest of no action at all. The decision to arrest should be based on a careful analysis of the situation with an understanding that many of the problems encountered will demand a variety of solutions. There are alternatives for creatively resolving a situation which may include warnings, citations, grand jury direct presentments, or referrals to social service agencies.
“I don’t think we can concern ourselves with whatever perspective comes from the DEA and law enforcement,” said Scretchen. “There’s a perspective from the community, and the Black community in particular, that we have to pay attention. Whatever they say is going to kind of support their own ends.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper also responded to Wednesday’s announcement by Funk.
“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.”
Funk’s full statement:
“Effective today, the Nashville District Attorney’s office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety.
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.”