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Denton City Council to further discuss marijuana decriminalization

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Article Originally Published by John Anderson on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by John Anderson on North Texas Daily

The Denton City Council is exploring the possibility of city marijuana policy reform and decriminalization.

On Nov. 2, council member Deb Armintor presented an ordinance written by Decriminalize Denton, a local activist group that strives to “enact a permanent moratorium on cannabis arrests and citations in Denton.” The legislation would change city policy and no longer allow police officers to make arrests or issue citations for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses.

In an upcoming meeting, the council will decide how they want to proceed with approaching the topic of decriminalization.

“The council will discuss whether or not we want to just adopt this ordinance as is, […] adopt it with some changes or just make another ordinance that’s similar to this one,” Armintor said.

The ordinance makes exceptions for “the investigation of a felony-level narcotics case” and “the investigation of a violent felony” but states in other instances individuals must be released if possession is the sole charge. The legislation also says Class C misdemeanor citations for possession of drug residue or drug paraphernalia will also not be allowed and city funds will no longer be used to test if a substance is marijuana.

No official date has been set for the next meeting, but Armintor said she hopes it will occur in January. The outcome of said work session would then be voted on during another city council meeting and, if it passes, then would become city policy.

While other council members supported the work session to discuss the issue of decriminalization, some had reservations about supporting the proposed ordinance.

“I don’t support coming at it from the direction of the ordinance,” council member Jesse Davis said in the Nov. 2 meeting. “I think we need to look at this from a perspective of where we are at as a community […] and not where an advocacy group thinks we are.”

Other council members said that while they were not sure how feasible it would be to enact all elements of the ordinance, the document brought up points they wanted to discuss further.

“I totally agree with council member Armintor that our cannabis laws do more harm than good,” council member Alison Maguire said. “They result in excessive incarceration, especially of low income and non-white individuals.”

Decriminalize Denton Co-Founder and Organizer Tristan Seikel, who wrote the ordinance, said racial issues were a big reason for this movement. Seikel used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain 2019-2020 arrest data from the Denton Police Department.

“We found that there were 120 black men who were arrested for cannabis possession in the same period where 128 white men were arrested,” Seikel said. “The fact that it is nearly a split divide […] coupled with the fact that black people only account for a little over 9 percent of Denton’s total population, that shows very clear racial disparities.”

Seikel was also involved with Students for Sensible Drug Policy at UNT and worked with the Student Government Association to reform policy at the university in 2019. Current SGA senator and political science senior Grant Johnson said he is happy to see how the organizations have helped affect the larger Denton community.

“We are here to serve,” Johnson said. “Not only just our student community but our city, which we all live in and are affected by.”

Denton is not the first city in Texas to talk about marijuana decriminalization or lack of arrests for small amounts in possession. There are currently also movements in cities including Austin, San Marcos, Dallas and Plano.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

Source: North Texas Daily

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