Action Alert

CURRENT STATUS: Governor Bill Haslam signed this bill into law on April 27, 2016.

Our criminal justice system should keep us safe, operate fairly, and be cost-effective. Yet current drug policies are expensive, ineffective, and disproportionately enforced against people of color.

In 2010, Tennessee spent an estimated $42,948,820 enforcing marijuana possession laws. The tax dollars and resources that are wasted enforcing these laws would be better spent on law enforcement agencies addressing and solving violent crimes.

For far too long, thousands of Tennesseans—disproportionately Black Tennesseans—have been arrested for possession of very small amounts of marijuana—leading to disastrous consequences for their lives, including the loss of jobs, education, and housing opportunities.

SB 1572/HB 1478 will move us in the right direction, removing the felony designation that is currently applied to the third or subsequent conviction for simple possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less. This measure would significantly reduce the costly incarceration rate for this low-level, nonviolent offense.

TAKE ACTION: Urge legislators to make our criminal justice system more fair, cost-effective and safe.

Sample letter to legislator:

I am writing to ask your support for SB 1572/HB 1478.

Over the past decade and a half, Tennessee's prison population grew more than twice as fast as Tennessee's general population. Dangerous offenders belong behind bars. But many people in our jails and prisons are not there for violent crimes. This bill would reduce the incarceration rate for the low-level, nonviolent offense of simple possession of marijuana.

Current drug policies are expensive and ineffective. In 2010, approximately 42.2% of Tennessee drug arrests were for marijuana possession and Tennessee spent an estimated $42,948,820 enforcing marijuana possession laws. This bill would save Tennessee hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of dollars just in the savings on incarceration costs.

This measure would also free up the resources that law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts must currently spend pursuing these low-level, non-violent offenses--resources that would be better used addressing and solving violent crimes.

It is possible to shrink our bloated prisons while protecting public safety. Numerous states such as Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Maine and many others have reformed their marijuana possession laws to save money and more effectively prioritize police resources.

In the words of David Keene, former president of the National Rifle Association and past chairman of the American Conservative Union, "The fact that so many Americans, including hundreds of thousands who are a threat to no one, are incarcerated means that something is wrong with our criminal justice system."

It's time to divert money away from failing policies. Please support SB 1572/HB 1478. Thank you.

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