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Denton City Council battles over plan to decriminalize marijuana possession

More than 70% of voters approved the proposition in November, which would apply to low-level marijuana citations

DENTON, Texas — Denton officials are divided on if the city can follow a new law passed by voters in November which would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

City councilmembers went back and forth Tuesday after a report from City Manager Sara Hensley on why the city and its police department can’t follow the new law.

70% of voters approved in November the plan that would decriminalize marijuana possession of 4 ounces or less, ban using smell as probable cause and ban paying for testing substances for THC.

Austin, Killeen and several other cities passed similar propositions last year according to Hensley’s presentation.

Former City Councilwoman Deb Armintor is part of Decriminalize Denton and says police should follow the law until issues arise.

“I hope that council tells the city manager and police chief no more excuses, no more BS, enforce his law. This is the will of the people,” Armintor said before Tuesday’s meeting. “Their job is to enforce this law. This is the way democracy work and if something is going to happen in the legal system, let it play out.”

From June 2021 to July 2022, police made 65 arrests involving marijuana according to a city manager memo. In the report presented Tuesday, Hensley said they’ve made 23 arrests in the last 3 months and written 52 citations.

“I realize that the voters have spoken, I do understand that, but we don’t have the authority to implement it because of state law and the conflict,” Hensley said.

Another idea councilmembers floated was to possible adjust the fine and court costs associated with marijuana possession as a workaround.

“I’m not going to sit here and say to the chief of police that you have to do something that is against your oath, that is against the police officers out in the field that are doing that every day,” Councilman Chris Watts said.

Councilman Brian Beck pushed strongest for the ordinance, pointing out that several cities have successfully implemented its use.

“My mandate is to clearly implement what the people tell as put before us,” Beck said. “We were at 72% and 43 of 45 precincts,” Beck said. “This have been one of the most overwhelming votes that we’ve had in recent history. The citizens of Denton want that.”

There was no vote in Tuesday’s work session and the issue could result in legal challenges from either side regardless of how it plays out.

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