Denton passes one of Texas' first marijuana decriminalization ordinances
The majority has spoken in Denton, overwhelmingly passing the cannabis decriminalization ordinance, one of the first cities in in Texas to do so.
It’s an ordinance that requires Denton police, in part, not to arrest or issue a citation for misdemeanor marijuana charges and not to use cannabis odor to justify search and seizure unless police are investigating a high-priority felony narcotics crime or a violent felony crime.
The naysayers claim it will be a challenge to implement it.
But the majority of voters, in final but unofficial returns, disagreed.
With all precincts reporting, 71.35% of the votes — a record-breaking 32,610 ballots — were in favor of the ordinance, with 28.65% — 13.092 — against.
“This ordinance has now received more votes than any council member or mayor in the history of Denton,” said, Nick Stevens from Decriminalize Denton, a grassroots organization that started the petition to get the ordinance on the ballot, “and we’re ecstatic that Republicans, Democrats and independents came together to reclaim their power in the city.”
Their will reflects what more than 85% of Texans have shown in recent polls: that marijuana should be decriminalized. Texas’ sister states have already legalized it in some form. Across the Red River to the north, Oklahoma voters will be deciding on whether to take their medical marijuana right and turn it into a recreational right in March 2023.
But the new city ordinance doesn’t affect the two university police forces, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office or Texas Department of Public Safety. They still can arrest you for misdeamoner cannabis possession and take you to jail.
Stevens wrote in a recent op-ed for the Denton Record Chronicle that the majority had already approached the council about passing some form of decriminalization. The Denton Police Department had already implemented an unofficial policy to ignore low-level amounts of cannabis.
Yet despite the will of the majority, Stevens wrote, council members voted against it.
And while the Denton City Council didn’t support the initiative, several councils and counties around the state have listened to the majority and passed similar resolutions. In 2020, Austin passed a resolution to prohibit city funds from being used to prosecute non-felony marijuana cases, while El Paso followed by passing a resolution to offer a summons and release for people caught with less than 4 ounces. A few years earlier, Travis County commissioners implemented a $45 fine and four-hour marijuana class for those caught with up to 2 ounces.
The state itself expanded the Compassionate Care Use Act to include more people struggling with health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, reaffirming that marijuana does have medicinal value for millions of Texans.
Early this year, Stevens and Decriminalize Denton took it upon themselves to start a petition to put the cannabis decriminalization issue on Tuesday’s ballot for voters in Denton to be heard. They needed about 1,700 signatures to do so and received more than 3,000 signees who agreed that it should be put to majority vote.
CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-220-4299 and via Twitter at @writerontheedge.