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The Denton City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday for a marijuana enforcement ordinance to be included on the ballot in the November 8 election.
The ordinance was written by Decriminalize Denton and aims to eliminate low-level marijuana enforcement by Denton Police. It will be voted on by city of Denton residents and will become an amendment to the city’s Code of Ordinances if passed.
Decriminalize Denton is an activist group whose mission is to “responsibly decrease, and eventually eliminate, all legal penalties for adult possession of personal amounts of cannabis in the city of Denton,“ according to its website.
The marijuana enforcement ordinance seeks to end citations and arrests for Class A and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana which can include up to 4 ounces.
The ordinance makes exceptions for circumstances when arrests or citations are part of an investigation of a felony-level narcotics case or violent felony but says if possession is the sole charge, the individual in question must be released.
Marijuana can still be seized under the ordinance but it does prohibit paraphernalia charges from being issued in lieu of a possession charge – a current policy of Denton Police.
The ordinance also prohibits the use of city funds in THC concentration testing and police using the smell of marijuana as probable cause for search and seizure.
The ordinance is similar to one proposed in November, which was voted against by the City Council at the time. The current ordinance was introduced as a petition so that it could be voted on by the people, Deb Armintor, social media coordinator for Decriminalize Denton and former city council member said.
“Because of that [previous] experience, we decided we didn’t trust council or government to be the one to make this decision,” Armintor said. “We wanted it to come from the people.”
Once on the ballot, the ordinance will need more than 50 percent of registered voters in the city of Denton to vote for it in order to pass. Nick Stevens, university alum and Decriminalize Denton board member said he is confident there will be enough support.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll get at least 80 percent,” Stevens said. “This is something that 83 percent of Texans supports. It is one of the only issues that comes to mind that crosses party lines.”
Recently, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller came out in support of medical marijuana.
Denton Mayor Gerard Hudspeth is less confident in the ordinance’s chances of being approved in the election.
“I absolutely support it going to the citizens,” Hudspeth said in the meeting. “I absolutely think it won’t pass.”
Marijuana being illegal on the state level and the lack of distinction between adults and minors in the language of the ordinance are the main reasons Hudspeth said he doesn’t believe it will pass.
A point of confusion that came up in the July 26 City Council meeting was whether or not the ordinance would take effect within school zones and drug-free zones. Drug-free zones include “anywhere within 1,000 feet of school property, a youth center, a playground, within 300 feet of a public swimming pool or video arcade, or on a school bus,” according to Doug Murphy Law Firm.
“I do not think the majority of the citizens of Denton want to violate state law,” Hudspeth said in an email to the North Texas Daily.
Hudspeth also said that city and state laws could create implementation challenges.
“The charter gives the citizens the right to petition the government,” Hudspeth said. “But in my opinion, the charter does not allow this petition, as written, to be enforced.”
In an email concerning the enforcement of the Reproductive Decisions resolution City Council passed last month, which sought to deprioritize police responses to laws related to reproductive healthcare, Denton City Manager Sara Hensley noted the council’s lack of authority over Denton Police.
“City Council lacks authority under the City Charter to instruct the chief of police how to perform his duties, including which laws to enforce and priority of that enforcement,” Hensley said.
The Denton Police Department directly reports to the city manager but enforcement is up to the chief of police. Hudspeth said he anticipates a similar answer when it comes to marijuana enforcement.
Other members of the City Council support the ordinance, including Mayor Pro Tempore Brian Beck and council member Alison Maguire, who both signed the original petition.
“I support cannabis decriminalization because the war on drugs has ravaged our communities while doing nothing to address the harm caused by substance use disorders,” Maguire said in an email to the North Texas Daily. “My hope is that […] fewer Denton residents will be arrested and charged for possession of cannabis and our representatives in Austin and D.C. will get the message that it’s time to end the prohibition of cannabis.”
Armintor said Decriminalize Denton still has work to do to prepare for the November election
“We’re gonna be mobilizing people to vote who are not yet registered to vote in the city of Denton and we’re gonna be spreading the word to get out and vote,” Armintor said. “We want to be real visible and we want everybody to know that cannabis decriminalization is on the ballot in November.”