Resolution To Track Marijuana Enforcement

Although I don’t support fully legalizing marijuana, I did vote in favor of Metro’s new ordinance that allows police officers to issue a civil citation instead of a misdemeanor warrant for possession of small amounts of marijuana. I voted in favor mostly due to race issues. Despite research showing that the rate of marijuana use in America does not vary by race, substantially more African Americans are punished criminally than whites. That’s not a criticism of any individual police officer, police chief, prosecutor, judge, or jury. But it’s true, and it’s a problem.

Allowing Metro police officers the discretion to give a civil citation if they choose is an imperfect solution. It would be better if we could wake up one day to find that the rate of arrests and convictions among race groups were equal, just like the underlying drug use. Short of that though, we should experiment with changes in our enforcement laws, and then track the results. That is why I am co-sponsoring a resolution that would ask the Metro Nashville Police Department, the District Attorney, and the Circuit Court Clerk to work together to track statistics showing the rates of civil and criminal citations, by race and gender.

The fact that drug laws are enforced more heavily against minority groups is a part of continued racial injustice. Some of the initial reaction to the resolution shows how uncomfortable it still is to talk publicly about race. For example, some have disputed my “hypothesis” that drug laws are enforced unfairly along race group lines in America. And, one letter to the editor in the Tennessean suggested that disproportionate arrests were because “the person on the street…just cannot behave properly.”

These responses miss the point. The statistics about the uneven impact of drug enforcement cannot be disputed. African-Americans get punished criminally for drug offenses at dramatically higher rates than whites. That is the problem. We can and should debate the roles of education, poverty, family, jobs, and wages. But, being smart enough or well-behaved enough does not explain the statistics. No – race is the core issue just as it has been for so long.

These statistics are a call to action. It is important that Nashville talk about race openly. We have to be able to talk about the truth that African-Americans are arrested and convicted disproportionately for drug offenses. Inevitably, a few will finger point or get defensive about this. I believe more of us will rise above that and focus on solutions, on moving toward the goal of equal justice under the law for all of us.

Sept. 20 Council Meeting

The Council still has a lot going on. Here’s a quick summary:

One Touch Make Ready

You all know what this is.  The bill is on 3rd reading. Council Member Weiner has proposed a resolution related to OTMR. I also am proposing an amendment that would allow, under some circumstances, for the costs of any litigation to be absorbed by a new attacher.

Since the Council Rules don’t allow amendments on 3rd reading for this bill, I would need to successfully get the Rules suspended for my amendment to be considered.  Never say never, but it only takes two objecting Council Members to stop the Rules from being suspended. So, it would be pretty easy for just the lead sponsors to stop my amendment from being considered — if that’s what they would prefer.

I’ve written previously about this topic here, here, here, and here.

Short Term Rental Property

There are three bills on 3rd reading — 257 (about stop work orders and the penalty for operating without a permit), 373 (about posting a permit number online), and 374 (about verifying an STRP application under oath, and adding a statement to the application about homeowner’s association rules).  I expect all of these to pass on 3rd reading. At the request of some STRP owners, I will try to add an amendment to 373 to allow the alternative of posting an image of a permit. Either way, the permit number will be required to be included in online advertisements.

There are three others on 2nd reading — 375, 381, and 382.  Don’t get too attached to the text at these links — I expect all of these to have fairly major amendments or substitutes offered on Tuesday. I think that each then will be deferred to allow more time for public conversation about the newly proposed provisions.


The bill to offer law enforcement in Metro the option to give a civil citation or make an arrest for small amounts of marijuana is set for 3rd reading. It passed easily on 2nd and I think it will pass on 3rd also.

The impact of current marijuana laws is unfairly focused on minority groups. That’s really bad. But I have been concerned about whether the new law (that gives discretion to either arrest or give a citation) will make that unfair enforcement problem worse. The lead sponsor has said that he intends to follow this closely after the bill is passed to make sure that the discretion to give a citation or make an arrest is not exercised unfairly. So, I voted for this and will again on 3rd reading.

Fair Deals?

There are always several items on the agenda that I want to know more about just to make sure I understand the deal.  RS2016-373 would amend the terms of a fire hall property on Richard Jones Road. RS2016-378 is about an economic impact study on certain historic properties in Nashville due to placing “Distributed Antenna System Nodes” around the county.

And, on second reading, BL2016-388 relates to the Metro Health and Educational Facilities Board (a new one for me) entering a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement for land on 12th Avenue South. I’ve asked for the various exhibits mentioned in the bill — you can’t tell much from the bill itself.

On 1st Reading

CM Cooper and I have introduced a bill that would require all reports that any Metro agency has to give to the Council to be posted online in an electronic format. That doesn’t happen now.

I also have a bill on first reading that mirrors my proposed amendment to the OTMR ordinance. If I am not able to get the Council Rules suspended to consider my amendment, I’ll still have this new bill that would have to be considered on subsequent readings.

And, the Gulch pedestrian bridge bill is on first reading also. I’m sure that will draw attention in the coming weeks.

High Velocity Ammo Protection

The Mayor has asked the Council to approve spending just over $1 million on new body armor for our Police Department. This is a request from MNPD in the wake of the Dallas police shootings. The new armor would help protect officers from high velocity rounds fired from assault rifles. Officers would not wear the armor at all times, but would have it available for easy access in their vehicles if needed. I am voting in favor of this.

Last week, the Council received several dozen emails asking us to disapprove this measure because it represents a militarization of our police department. That’s not how I see it. I certainly am opposed to the militarization of any police department. But, with the ready availability of powerful assault weapons in the United States, it is an unfortunate reality that our officers run the daily risk of being confronted with military-style rifles. Our officers and their families deserve to have reasonable protection from these weapons.

I will vote in favor of this funding request.