Denton votes to end low-level marijuana citations & arrests. Police are doing it anyway.

Last November, voters in Denton overwhelmingly approved an ordinance to put an end to low-level marijuana arrests and citations. However, police are still doing it anyway.

Council members on Tuesday questioned whether the ordinance is even something they can enforce.

City leaders in Denton believe state law is preventing them from enforcing an ordinance it passed in November to decriminalize marijuana. A move more than 70% of voters there are in favor of.

The city of Denton voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum in November to end citations and arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, but those arrests and citations are still happening. 

  (Courtesy of the American Heart Association)

Denton votes to decriminalize small amounts marijuana

Nick Stevens, a founder of ‘Decriminalize Denton,’ led the fight to decriminalize marijuana, collecting enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

"I’m disappointed that we have three council members out of six that are still ignoring the will of the people," he said.

So far, the city has failed to implement the new ordinance with some city council members claiming doing so would violate state law.

"I don’t think some of us are willing to admit to ourselves or to our constituents that we are not omnipotent. That we don’t get to just keep thumbing our nose at state law and nothing will happen," said Councilmember Jesse Davis.

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Other council members warned that failing to move forward will have consequences.

"We’re in danger of playing chicken with the voters, and playing chicken with the voters is a dangerous game," said Mayor Pro Tem Brian Beck.

During a work session Tuesday, City Manager Sara Hensley highlighted which parts of the ordinance violated state law. That included banning officers from using the smell of marijuana to search someone, issue a citation or make an arrest.

"I’m trying to make sure that we are not breaking the law," she said.

And officers are still citing and arresting people for marijuana-related offenses. There were about 52 citations and/or arrests from November to mid-January. But the city manager insists marijuana possession is a low priority.

"I will assure you that marijuana enforcement continues to be a low priority and has been and will continue to be," Hensley said.

There was no resolution during Tuesday’s meeting, but some council members hope to find a compromise.

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"I do trust the process, and sometimes the process is messy," said Councilman Chris Watts.  "And this is messy, but I’m not gonna sit here and say to the chief of police that you have to do something that is against your oath."

For ones leading the charge to decriminalize cannabis, they say they’re not abandoning the issue.

"At the end of the day, democracy always wins," Stevens said. "And it’s important for people to know that."

The city manager says the police department will continue to make marijuana enforcement a low priority.