North Texas Daily

Marijuana decriminalization struck down by city council after local protest, record meeting turnout

Marijuana decriminalization struck down by city council after local protest, record meeting turnout

Marijuana decriminalization struck down by city council after local protest, record meeting turnout
June 07
11:15 2023

Denton City Council voted 4-3 against implementing a marijuana ordinance that sought to end citations and arrests for cannabis possession Tuesday evening . 

Proposition B was denied after 3 hours of comments from citizens and discussion amongst council members on the issue. City council members Vicki Byrd, Joe Holland, Chris Watts and Mayor Gerard Hudspeth voted against the ordinance, while council members Brandon Chase McGee, Paul Meltzer and Brian Beck voted in favor.

“We have to unite and hopefully this is the beginning of refocusing on city priorities”, mayor Gerard Hudspeth said. “Policing shouldn’t be political, it just should not. We don’t vote who gets speeding tickets — we don’t vote on how we need to keep people safe. That’s just not what we do, those two are set. I want to touch on this because we’ve talked about all the different levels — we’ve talked about federal, state, and city charter. This violates something at every level.”

Proposition B was placed on the ballot last year after a petition was circulated by Decriminalize Denton, a local activism group, and put on the ballot by the Denton City Council. About 71 percent of Denton citizens voted in favor of the ordinance, but over the following months city officials recommended council members not to implement the ordinance due to “lack of authority.”

After local elections in May changed the body of the city council, Proposition B was scheduled for a vote on the first city council meeting in June. Tuesday night’s vote, alongside the commentary from city council officials, may signal the end of Proposition B’s future with this city council.

Before the city council meeting, a protest organized by Decriminalize Denton and sponsored by several other groups began outside the Denton City Hall tonight in favor of the ordinance.

“What is going on here in Denton is ridiculous, that they still haven’t implemented Prop B,” said Sky Weatheread, the marketing director for ZAR, a cannabis business owned and operated by veterans. “Y’all have fought so hard to get this passed. It passed overwhelmingly, it is way past time for them to implement this for you.”

Around forty protestors gathered an hour prior to the event. Nick Stevens, a board member for Decriminalize Denton and an early supporter of Proposition B, said he is “tired” of the delays.

“Denton residents have worked their a—es off to just ask the city to follow the law,” Stevens said. “And that’s why you’re here today.”

As the protest ended and the city council meeting began, the crowd funneled into city hall shouting, “Implement Prop B don’t f—k with our democracy.”

Around 30 people signed up to speak to the council, and different perspectives about the issue were shared. Those who spoke included police officers, members from activist groups, lawyers, local business owners and concerned citizens on both sides of the debate. 

Weeks before the city council meeting the Denton Police Officers Association sent a letter in opposition to the proposition, saying that “for Prop B to be implemented, there would need to be changes to the drug laws that are governed by the state, not by a city ordinance.” Multiple DPOA members also attended the meeting.

“We are vehemently opposed to any measure that would impede an officer’s ability to use discretion or uphold the laws of the state of Texas,” Denton Police Department Staff Attorney Kirby Wallace said. “While state law provides an avenue for marijuana cite and release, it does not remove an officer’s discretion nor should it. Other factors should be accounted for when an officer makes a decision on a custody arrest. That discretion is of the utmost importance when it comes to officer’s safety and their ability to protect and serve.”

Many of the supporters of Prop B who spoke before the council members stated implementation was the will of the voters, with some speakers stating that not implementing the law is a violation of local democracy. 

“The persistent delays and denials in implementing this measure undermines the democratic process and the voices of our community,” said Madison Powers, the co-owner of delta-8 dispensary Green Goddess Revival. “Let us embrace democracy and justice by implementing property and ensuring equal treatment under the law, holding our law enforcement accountable for any disparities and biases.”

The disparity of opinions was not lost on the city council members. At-Large Place 6 Council Member Chris Watts said during the meeting it is one of the most divisive and contentious issues he has ever seen in the community. 

Council members raised concerns about the ordinance’s effect on police officers who fail to comply and its legality and whether or not the proposal can withstand legal challenges by the state of Texas. Other concerns raised by those who opposed Proposition B, including Watts and Byrd, included the claims of racial profiling by police, and whether Proposition B would even be effective in addressing this issue. 

“It’s not the marijuana, It’s the racism — it’s the systemic racism that we find in our Police Department,” District 1 Council Member Byrd said. “Our job is to take care of one another, and that includes our law enforcement folks. We hold them at a very high standard and they are meeting that standard, and if they’re not that’s what we need to talk about.”

Despite the support for the police by the city council, members of the community were not convinced. Robert Head, chair for HempforVictory, stated that a major concern for his organization, which raises awareness for the benefits of cannabis for veterans, is how getting a citation or being arrested for marijuana can negatively impact veterans and their families.

“I believe that Councilwoman Byrd and the mayor’s faith in law enforcement is a little too much,” Head said. “Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I love the police too, and I got very good friends in the police force. But you never hand a badge and gun over to anybody with 100 percent confidence that they’re doing good.”

There are currently no plans to amend the ordinance or to place it to a second vote.

“It’s devastating and infuriating.” former at-large City Council Member and board member of Decriminalize Denton Deb Armintor said. “We’re going to keep fighting but it should not have to be this way. This is a total disregard for democracy.”

Featured Image: Denton residents pack the City Hall meeting room for the City Council’s Proposition B discussion on June 6, 2023. Alex Parker

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Celie Price

Celie Price

Alex Parker

Alex Parker

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