Nashville joins cities who have lightened up on marijuana penalties

Nashville and surrounding Davidson County have joined a lengthy list of governments giving law enforcement officials the option of issuing civil citations to persons possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Marijuana possession and use in the city and county are still considered crimes. But under the new measure passed Sept. 20 by the Nashville Metropolitan Council, law enforcement officials may choose whether to charge a person with a civil offense or a criminal misdemeanor for knowingly possessing a half-ounce of marijuana or less.

The law sets civil penalties at $50 fines and 10 hours of community service. If charged criminally, suspects would face a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, the Nashville Tennessean reported.

Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, described the move as extremely disappointing.

"It once again reveals that Nashville and Tennessee are not the buckle of the Bible Belt that everyone thinks we are. In fact, anyway you slice Tennessee, our state is a mission field," Davis told Baptist Press.

"This decision reveals the great need we have in our state to see people saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship. This decision should be a clarion call to all Christians to step it up and saturate their communities with the Good News of Jesus Christ," Davis said.

Marijuana decriminalization and legalization are becoming more common in the U.S. It is legal in four states and is on the November ballot in five states, including Florida, according to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), which reports that legalization was by voter initiatives. At least 21 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana, the NCSL said.

In Tennessee, the Memphis City Council will vote on a similar decriminalization measure in October. Decriminalization measures are already on the books in more than 30 cities including Chicago, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Orlando and Tampa, according to statistics.

Morally, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. has likened the increasing decriminalization and legalization of marijuana to the acceptance of LGBT lifestyles and beliefs.

“We’ve noticed that the arc of public moral change on the issue of marijuana has tracked very closely with the arc of the same moral change on the question of homosexuality and in particular, almost in the mirror image the issue of same-sex marriage,” Mohler said in his Sept. 20 briefing of current events.

Despite the growing trend, marijuana remains a Class I federal felony in the same category as heroin.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in July denied a petition to decriminalize its use, based on findings from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that "marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision," the DEA wrote in its letter of denial.

Marijuana use can lead to dependence in up to 30 percent of users, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and leads to addiction when users are unable to abandon the drug even as it interferes with daily life.

Medical studies continue to show marijuana's danger. A research paper released Aug. 23 in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience reports that a major substance found in marijuana—tetrahydrocannabinol or THC—made rats "slackers" unwilling to work harder for larger rewards.

"High THC concentrations have been previously linked to impaired executive functioning," the study's authors wrote, "and we specifically show these deficits extend to situations requiring cognitively effortful decision-making."

"Although a chronic dosing experiment would be required to assess this association directly," the study concludes, "we hypothesize that associations between THC and poorer life outcomes may be due to a drug-induced decrease in willingness to allocate cognitive effort, rather than impairments in fundamental cognitive abilities per se." 

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.

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