Marijuana

Denton City Council members agreed Nov. 2 that they would discuss possible changes to how some marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges are handled within city limits.

That discussion is scheduled to take place during Tuesday afternoon’s council meeting.

Possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, and possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor.

About 60% of Texans think it should be legal to possess small amounts of marijuana for any use, according to a recent poll conducted by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas.

It is current Denton Police Department policy to “not specifically target marihuana enforcement.”

There are a handful of exceptions to that policy, such as evidence of marijuana distribution or violent crimes. Otherwise, Denton police are meant to issue a citation for low-level marijuana possession.

Such policies have been more common across Texas since the cannabis testing law passed in 2019 that required suspected marijuana samples to be tested in a lab to confirm whether the concentration of THC — the psychoactive component in marijuana — is below 0.03%.

Council member Deb Armintor pitched the discussion during the council’s Nov. 2 meeting. She called on her fellow council members to stop spending money on THC testing, to reduce the drain on police resources with current practices, end the trauma inflicted by marijuana citations and end the racially disparate arrests for weed possession in Denton.

She said 120 Black men and 128 white men were arrested in Denton in the previous year on the same marijuana possession charges. There are more than five times as many white people in Denton as there are Black people, according to data from the 2020 census.

“We must act now if we wish to live up to our city values of inclusivity and innovation,” Armintor concluded.

Mayor Pro Tem Paul Meltzer said he’d like to hear from Police Chief Frank Dixon about his thoughts on proposed changes.

“Let’s recognize the fact that we’re working with a police chief who — on his own initiative — has reduced cannabis arrests by 85%, so you’re pushing against an open door,” he said.

Council member Jesse Davis said he’d like to see a further discussion about the issue because he thinks the community needs to talk about the issue. He cited only six local marijuana possession arrests in 2021 that weren’t connected to other charges.

He said the public health dangers of marijuana are debatable, but drug trafficking is undoubtedly dangerous.

Council member Alison Maguire agreed with Armintor that existing cannabis laws do more harm than good: “They result in excessive incarceration, especially of low-income and non-white individuals, and they represent a waste of resources across our nation.”

Council member Vicki Byrd said she supports looking into the issue further, and council member Brian Beck agreed and said it would be important to hammer out the finer details related to potential changes.

The issue is not scheduled for a vote during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The meeting starts at 4 p.m. and can be viewed remotely through the city’s website. The agenda posted next to the council meeting online contains instructions for those interested in speaking on council business.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.