Tennessee DA: Office will no longer prosecute small marijuana possession charges

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced Wednesday that his office will no longer prosecute individuals charged with possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana.

Funk’s declaration falls in line with a growing number of states legalizing and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Because the drug is still illegal in several states, police have continued to make arrests for possession of any amount. Subsequently, district attorneys have been presented with prosecuting those offenses. In 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, police officers made about 663,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That number made up four out of 10 of all U.S. drug arrests in 2018.

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Funk said in a statement that prosecuting for marijuana charges does “little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety.” Additionally, Funk said the policy change would likely impact the number of minorities entering the justice system due to marijuana charges.

“Demographic statistics indicate that these charges impact minorities in a disproportionate manner. This policy will eliminate this area of disproportionately in the justice system.”

For the justice system, Funk said the elimination of such charges will decrease jail housing expenses and reduce the number of cases that courts and clerk’s offices handle.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper told NewsChannel5 he supports the policy change.

“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.

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The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sent a memo to law enforcement agencies across the state last fall that it would only perform testing of marijuana in cases in which there are “felony amounts of plant material and at the District Attorney’s request if needed for trial.”

Last year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee condemned a bill introduced by Sen. Sarah Kyle that sought to decriminalize marijuana, according to WMC 5.

“I have said before and still believe that we should not decriminalize marijuana ... I think that’s not good for our state,” said Lee.