VOL. 131 | NO. 189 | Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Council Sets Stage for Final Pot Ordinance Vote
By Bill Dries
With no debate, Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, Sept. 20, the second of three readings of an ordinance that would allow police officers to write a ticket with a $50 fine for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana.
The council approval of the proposal as part of a larger consent agenda sets the stage for a final vote at the Oct. 4 council meeting.
And it came several hours before the Metro Nashville Council gave final approval to a similar ordinance, a decision that could influence the October council vote in Memphis.
The Metro Nashville Council vote was 35-3 in favor.
The dynamics on the Memphis City Council are different because of several factors including the smaller size of the Memphis council at 13 members.
What little debate the council has had as a body on the measure proposed by council member Berlin Boyd has broken down along generational lines with older council members expressing opposition to it and younger council members favoring it.
But not every council member has expressed an opinion beyond a vote on a consent agenda that includes the proposal along with other unrelated items.
The council vote on the consent agenda is usually a unanimous vote. But Tuesday the council’s vote on a consent agenda that included the marijuana ordinance passed with eight votes. Council members Frank Colvett and Janis Fullilove voted no and council member Worth Morgan abstained.
Council chairman Kemp Conrad and Martavius Jones were absent.
On first reading of the ordinance Sept. 6, Fullilove was among those voting yes on the consent agenda and Colvett voted no.
Jones and Conrad were among those who voted for the consent agenda including the marijuana ordinance at the Sept. 6 meeting. Council members Brown and Reid Hedgepeth did not vote.
Boyd said Tuesday he is not sure if the measure has seven votes to pass on third reading. And Boyd noted that Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has not said whether he will support council approval of such a measure.
Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has said he is opposed in principle to the ordinance.
Minutes after the Metro Nashville Council gave final approval to the ordinance there, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry called the measure “a positive step forward in addressing the overly punitive treatment of marijuana possession in our state that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority residents.”
Boyd said his proposal is the leading edge of a “drastic necessity for change” built around a change in the priorities of the local criminal justice system.
“This will change the dynamics,” Boyd said before the Memphis council vote Tuesday as the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators announced its endorsement of the ordinance during a City Hall press conference.
Caucus chairwoman Brenda Gilmore of Nashville also made the case for the measure before council members at Tuesday’s executive session before the council session.
In other action Tuesday, the Memphis council approved a set of six resolutions totaling $7.5 million in capital funding for the Memphis Area Transit Authority. The largest of the resolution is $5 million in city funding to buy 11 new buses. The remaining $2.5 million is the local match to federal funding for other MATA needs including paratransit buses and public transportation infrastructure including technology.
The council also approved on the first of three readings an ordinance that applies the city’s occupancy tax to Airbnbs and establishes a short term rental appeals board.
The council also approved on first reading an ordinance that would restrict panhandling at intersections or median strips and approved $125,000 in city funding to Hospitality Hub for a program that would offer help for the homeless as part of a blight work program.
The council delayed for two weeks votes on a slate of seven appointees to various city commissions and boards by Strickland because the appointees were among a set of 11 items added to the council’s agenda Tuesday during the council day at City Hall.
The council approved another slate of nine other appointees from the mayor’s office that it had reviewed two weeks earlier.
The council delayed a vote Tuesday on a proposed car lot at Austin Peay Highway and Jones Road in Raleigh until its Nov. 1 session.