Lawmaker proposes changes to drug-free zone law

Posted at 9:40 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 23:25:12-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers introduced drug-free schools zones in Tennessee back in the '90s, giving stiffer penalties for some drug crimes within 1000 feet of schools, daycares and parks.

While it sounds like a law to help keep kids safe, now state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the law may actually do more harm than good.

Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) says the laws don't work. He says they haven't cut down on drug crimes, and he says the laws cast too wide a net: because there are so many schools and parks in urban centers, entire swaths of downtown areas are transformed into giant drug-free zones, inordinately impacting minority communities with enhanced sentences.

Curcio's bill would reduce the drug-free school zone radius from 1000 feet to 500 feet, and it would eliminate mandatory minimums in drug crime sentences for crimes that take place in those zones.

In 2008, Calvin Bryant was arrested on a non-violent drug charge at 10 o'clock at night, but because it happened to be within a thousand feet of a school, he was prosecuted under the Drug Free School Zone act.

The judge had to sentence Bryant to 15 years: the same sentence as someone convicted of rape or second degree murder. Bryant was released in 2018 after a plea deal with Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk reduced his sentence.

Bryant hopes changing the law may help others get back on their feet quicker after making a mistake.

"Maybe we can develop programs that can help people instead of sending them away for a lot of years," Bryant said.