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City of Denton cites lack of authority in implementing Proposition B

City of Denton cites lack of authority in implementing Proposition B

City of Denton cites lack of authority in implementing Proposition B
March 10
11:00 2023

Proposition B, an ordinance ending citations and arrests regarding minor marijuana possession, will not be fully implemented despite being approved by voters in the November 2022 election.

At the Denton City Council meeting held on Feb. 21, city manager Sara Hensley held a presentation for the council members regarding the difficulty implementing Prop B due to the ordinance violating state laws. According to the Texas Local Government Code, Section 370.003 states local governments may not adopt a policy where it cannot fully enforce laws relating to drugs.

“I recognize that the voters have spoken, and I understand that, but we don’t have the authority to implement those because of state law and the conflicts,” Hensley said during the city council meeting.

Hensley and Denton Chief of Police Doug Shoemaker have worked together to find ways to legally implement sections of the ordinance.

Enforcement of laws regarding marijuana is a low priority for the Denton Police Department, Shoemaker said, but the chief of police cannot discipline an officer for enforcing state law. Denton PD is also no longer implementing the “smell test,” meaning probable cause for search can no longer be solely based on the detected odor of marijuana. 

A total of 52 citations, including one arrest in a drug-free zone, have been made by Denton PD regarding marijuana possession from Nov. 1, 2022 to Jan. 17, 2023, according to data collected by Hensley. Of those 52, 23 involved arrestable offenses with primary violations other than possession of marijuana, such as warrants, trespassing or public intoxication. 

“I think that for people who use marijuana, life will probably continue on as normal in the sense that it’s always been illegal,” 25-year-old Denton resident Mads Crane said. “But I think that it kind of sucks for people to get really fired up and vote on an issue that they’re clearly passionate about, and then watch it go nowhere for really not any good reason at all.”

Several other Texas cities passed similar ordinances as well in the recent election, including Austin, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, San Marcos and San Antonio. Of these cities, only Austin has fully implemented their ordinance. The eligibility of Elgin’s ordinance has not had any major pushback.

Harker Heights, Killeen, San Marcos and San Antonio have repealed or not fully implemented their ordinances due to conflict with state and federal law.

“Publicly, they say that they believe it contradicts state law, but they have no good explanation for why the cities of Austin and Elgin are enforcing it without a problem,” said Deb Armintor, member of Decriminalize Denton and former city council member.

In the city of Denton, all citations regarding drug paraphernalia are eligible for deferred disposition and expunction.

Deferred disposition allows citizens to either pay a citation fee or participate in community service hours. In order for the charge to be dropped and not appear on their criminal record, they must also receive no further citations for an additional 90 days. Once successfully completed, the citizen can then file for expunction, which erases all records related to the arrest, and allows them to legally state they were never arrested or cited.  

“I will say that when you have such a clear mandate from the people, and the city manager alluded to it, my mandate is to fully implement what the citizens have put before us,” council member Brian Beck said during the city council meeting. “This has been one of the most overwhelming votes that we’ve had in recent history. The citizens of Denton want that, and so we could have taken steps to find all the pieces that we can do and follow the rules of the citizens.”

City council member Jesse Davis delivered a two-minute pitch during the March 7 city council meeting proposing a work session to further discuss the ordinance, which aspects the city council can put into effect and the best ways to do so. This is on the agenda for the March 7 meeting.

Featured Image Denton City Manager Sara Hensley listens during the Denton City Council meeting on March 7, 2023. Maria Crane

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