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Bill would reduce penalties for people caught with drugs in school zones

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Posted at 10:10 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 23:12:32-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Republican state lawmaker is pushing a bill that would reduce the severity of punishment for people caught with drugs in school zones.

Dickson Representative Michael Curcio brought the bill to amend a Tennessee law he called draconian.

In Tennessee, anyone caught dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of a church, school or daycare can be put in prison for decades. And in some cases, the amount of drugs people have been caught with is as a little as one gram, or, as Curcio puts it, as little amount as a package of artificial sweetener.

"We want to make sure that folks that are at a church, a school, a daycare are not bothered with criminal activity surrounding drug dealing. I think that's something we can all agree on," said Curcio. "Something the general assembly tried to enact back in the 90s and just did it with too broad of a brush, to be honest. So, very good intent behind the policy. But what we did is we drew a 1,000-foot zone around a school, a church, a daycare center, these sorts of things, with no exceptions and no discretion for the judge at all."

Because of the law, Curcio said he was contacted by the father of a man who's spent 18 years in prison for being caught with a relatively small amount of cocaine.

"His son was pulled over, had a tail light out on a Sunday night in the middle of the night in the summertime, but he was in 1,000 feet of a school. That school had been condemned 5 years earlier for black mold. So, there was no children there it was the middle of the night. That young man had some drugs in his car, which he should not have had and I do not condone, but a small personal use amount of drugs, he's now serving a sentence that's longer than what he would've gotten for second-degree murder," said Curcio.

The amended law would change the distance around a school that's protected from 1,000 feet to 500 feet. Also, it would give the judges discretion on who is considered a drug dealer and who got caught with drugs of the amount for personal use. The judge would also have discretion on the severity of the punishment for offenders.