Marijuana in Texas
With Texas lawmakers meeting in less than a year, what will the conversation be like around marijuana laws, including legalization?
Advocates in Denton have launched a petition drive to decriminalize cannabis.
Decriminalize Denton and other groups are gathering signatures in support of ending citations and arrests for misdemeanor possession. The goal is get a city ordinance eliminating the enforcement of low-level marijuana offenses on the November 2022 ballot.
“It’s really important that Denton keeps pace to where our nation is headed, and that is a more inclusive and equitable approach to cannabis use,” said Tristan Seikel, a co-founder and organizer for Decriminalize Denton.
The group has previously tried to get an ordinance passed through the City Council, Seikel said.
Advocates need 1,745 signatures to get the proposal on the ballot, but the group’s goal is 3,000 signatures. The group was planning a Saturday event at Denton’s downtown square to help with the push.
The proposed ordinance states that officers, with limited exceptions, “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses.” Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $4,000 or both. Class B misdemeanors could result in up to 180 days in jail or a fine of up to $2,000 or both.
The proposal would also prohibit Denton from using city funds or personnel for THC concentration testing and prohibit the city from using the smell of marijuana or hemp as probable cause for search or seizure.
“This is a huge criminal justice issue, because when you think about it, who are going to be disproportionately targeted by existing cannabis laws in Texas?” Seikel said. “It’s people who don’t have a safe space to consume, people who don’t have housing or good connection to do that in a safe way.”
The issue is close to home for many involved in the campaign, Seikel said.
“A lot of us who are actually involved with the campaign have been people that have personally dealt with the injustices of Texas cannabis policy,” he said.
The petition is specific to the city of Denton, not the county.
“Our hope is that if we can get Denton as the seat of the county on board with this, it would then be able to hopefully get passed in other cities across the county and across the region, and it’s also our hope that we could potentially go through the county one day as well,” Seikel said.
The Denton Police Department did not comment on the petition, but did send its policy for handling marijuana cases. It’s the department’s policy to generally issue citations in lieu of arrest when a person is accused of possessing two ounces or less of marijuana and an officer doesn’t believe another crime has occurred, according to the department’s general orders. When establishing probable cause to make a marijuana arrest, officers cannot use the smell of marijuana alone. Only approved cases are sent for testing, according to the general orders document.
Similar campaigns are happening in cities across the state with the collaboration of Ground Game Texas, including in Killeen, Austin and San Marcos. The issue is on the May 7 ballot in Austin. Ground Game Texas is focused on creating a coalition to “achieve Progressive Wins for Texas Communities,” according to its website.
“Our campaign in Denton — as well as the campaigns we’ve launched across the state — will give voters the power to end the criminalization of marijuana in their community and allow veterans and those with chronic illnesses to avail themselves of its medicinal benefits without fear of legal persecution,” said Julie Oliver, the group’s executive director in a statement.