VOL. 131 | NO. 243 | Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Shelby County Commission Votes Down Pot Ordinance
By Bill Dries
The Shelby County Commission voted down Monday, Dec. 5, an ordinance that would have matched a city of Memphis ordinance allowing police the option of writing a civil summons or ticket with a $50 fine for possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana.
Third and final reading of the ordinance, which would have applied to unincorporated Shelby County, failed on a 4-6 vote. It had failed on the first two readings but advanced to final reading under the commission’s rules of procedure.
Commissioners Van Turner and Reginald Milton, sponsors of the measure, were joined by Walter Bailey and chairman Melvin Burgess in voting for it.
“I think we all know where we are on this,” Turner said at the outset of the commission discussion, which was more agreeing to disagree than a debate.
Turner and Milton said they wanted to take a step that would reduce arrests for misdemeanor possession that they contend disproportionately affects African-Americans.
Commissioner Willie Brooks, however, said he visited the Shelby County Corrections Center and there was no one there doing time for misdemeanor pot possession as the only offense they were jailed for.
“This doesn’t send a positive message,” Brooks said of the proposal.
Commissioner Terry Roland said he understood the goals of Turner and Milton. But he said legislators in Nashville who plan to push to legalize medical marijuana next year believe the passage of similar ordinances in Memphis and Nashville will make it more difficult to pass the legislation.
Milton held up a half ounce of a green leafy substance in a plastic bag as he disputed the claim by fellow commissioner Mark Billingsley during a November debate that half an ounce of marijuana sells for $3,000 on the street. Billingsley got the figure from local law enforcement.
“He was in that world of fantasy,” Milton said without naming Billingsley.
He added that critics of the measure are living an “Alice in Wonderland” existence that is “contrary to reality” about pot.
“I am right on the commission and you are wrong,” Milton said as he concluded his remarks.
In other action Monday, the commission approved $185,692 in additional funding for the General Sessions Court Clerk’s office to pay overtime and hire more employees to print court records including dockets for judges and the sheriff.
Printed court records were ordered by General Sessions judges last month as the rollout of a new computer system for the local criminal justice system went askew.
Commissioners sought assurances from clerk Ed Stanton that the increase in funding and positions would be temporary and not last into the next fiscal year. Stanton said he anticipated that would be the case. But neither he nor other county officials were willing to commit to a date when the problems might all be ironed out.
“We think about things in a little different way,” county chief information officer John Halbert said, referring to when the new system will “stabilize.”
Halbert’s original estimate was January and said that is still his best guess, “but I am deathly afraid of you holding me to that,” he added under intense questioning from commissioner Eddie Jones.
Halbert said the problems are a mixture of data entry errors that are decreasing as county employees become more familiar with the new Odyssey computer system and bugs in the software that have to be corrected.