North Texas Daily

Prop B enforcement questioned after passing

Prop B enforcement questioned after passing

Prop B enforcement questioned after passing
December 01
10:30 2022

Proposition B, an ordinance that would end citations and arrests for Class A and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana, passed with 71 percent of the vote in Denton on Nov. 8, but mixed messages on its enforcement have followed. 

Efforts to create an ordinance like Proposition B began with the university’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Its former president, Tristan Seikel, started the initiative with the creation of the grassroots organization Decriminalize Denton in the summer of 2020. Geography senior and the university’s current SSDP President Grace Martin-Young said the organization has been involved every step of the way. 

“Decriminalize Denton kind of got the ball rolling, and we were super excited to join along with them and do a lot of the footwork, canvassing and providing resources for students,” Martin-Young said. 

Decriminalize Denton gathered enough petition signatures to put Proposition B on the ballot. From there, it was up to Dentonites to vote for it in the Nov. 8 election. Former city council member Deborah “Deb” Armintor is a current board member for Decriminalize Denton and cites team effort as the reason for the initiative’s success. 

“Students for Sensible Drug Policy was invaluable in this effort,” Armintor said. “We’re a number of members of the community — some of whom were seasoned activists, others who had never been active on any issue before. But this issue was really important to them because it hit home. They had seen firsthand the suffering that comes from the criminalization of this drug.”

On Election Day, more than 32,000 Denton residents voted in favor of the ordinance. The day after the election, the city of Denton issued a press release addressing the passage of Proposition B. The statement outlined who will be obligated to follow the ordinance and what portions will be implemented by the city. 

According to the press release, “The city does not have the authority to implement some provisions of Proposition B without changes to current drug laws by Congress and the Texas Legislature.”

Martin-Young was frustrated by the city officials’ response. 

“We were so excited to hear that it passed and to see Denton showing up as the city that I know it to be and so many other [University of North Texas] students know it to be,” Martin-Young said. “The feeling was short-lived given the city’s response to the passing of Prop B. The 70 percent of people [who] voted yes were acting as the top dog of legislative power, but the city manager is making this response as though [her] response carries more weight than the people’s, which just isn’t accurate.”

Armintor also expressed frustration at the city’s statement and denied the claim that the ordinance conflicts with state laws, saying “Proposition B was painstakingly written by Texas legal experts.”

Two Denton county police cars sit outside of City Hall East on Nov. 29, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

Additionally, the ordinance only applies to the Denton Police Department. UNT PD, Texas Woman’s University PD, Denton County Sheriff’s Office and the state police department are not obligated to follow the city order. Several of these agencies made statements reiterating that state-supported universities and non-city of Denton departments are bound by state law. 

In a special-called Denton City Council meeting on Nov. 22, the council officially approved the ordinance in a 6-0 vote. Several Denton residents expressed their desire for the ordinance to be fully enforced during the public comment period. Jeannette McKenzie, a UNT alum and Decriminalize Denton Board member, was among the 12 residents who expressed support for the proposition and its enforcement at the meeting. 

“Decriminalize Denton was founded as a nonpartisan organization specifically because we know that on both sides of the political spectrum and everywhere in between, people are supportive of Proposition B,” McKenzie said. “We are not the only city in Texas that has enacted decriminalization ordinances, and this includes our state capital, Austin. That sets a clear precedent that other cities in the state may follow suit.” 

Denton Mayor Gerard Hudspeth said he supports the citizens, the results and the next steps that will be taken to implement the ordinance, which will be up to the legal department and city manager. 

“I am going to vote today to support [the ordinance], and then I am going to get out of the way,” Hudspeth said at the city council meeting. “Then, the police and the city manager can do their job under state law and under city charter and execute. I’m not going to influence that. I’m not going to influence how they interpret what to do with their job.”

Two days after the meeting, the Nov. 24 crime blotter from the Denton Record-Chronicle had a headlining report that described an arrest made by Denton PD on charges of possession of marijuana and unlawful carrying of a weapon. A resident on Twitter pointed out that using the smell of cannabis as the reason for searching a vehicle is “specifically what Prop B banned.” 

The Decriminalize Denton Twitter account also made a statement urging residents to tell City Council and the city manager that this is “unacceptable.” 

Martin-Young said students should be aware that the ordinance only applies to Denton PD, and it is still unknown whether or not they will abide by it. 

“I think at the moment, students should take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone and that their fellow community members stand with them and agree that low-level possession of marijuana is not something that we should be policing,” Martin-Young said. “I hope everyone understands, especially at this point, that this is not something that’s guaranteeing safety or protection for anyone.”

Featured Image: A sign for City Hall East sits outside 601 E. Hickory St. on Nov. 29, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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