Denton to Propose Decriminalizing Small Amounts of Marijuana

City council member Deb Armintor will make the case at a meeting Tuesday afternoon

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The city of Denton could be on its way to decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession.

The city would join other North Texas communities looking to ease enforcement of simple marijuana possession.

And there is hope among some marijuana users in Denton.

“This is an effort we have been fighting for for years,” said Tristan Seikel of the grassroots group Decriminalize Denton.

Simple pot possession in Denton often ends with a costly ticket or a trip to jail.

City council member Deb Armintor aims to end the practice of criminalizing those in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Armintor will have two minutes to make her case before her colleagues on the council Tuesday afternoon, hoping to secure a working session to discuss her ordinance dubbed Denton Responsible Reformation of Cannabis Enforcement Act of 2021.

A working session could pave the way for a full council vote on the ordinance, which consists of three main parts:

  • It would ban all arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession, class A or B, except if it is part of a violent felony or drug trafficking case.
  • The ordinance would also ban citations for cannabis residue or paraphernalia which is often issued in lieu of an arrest.
  • The ordinance would also ban the use of city funding to pay for testing to determine whether THC levels are legal. This portion is in response to the state’s 2019 Hemp Bill which allows legal levels of THC.

“Is it really a massive societal interest that we spend, continue to waste our taxpayer money on doing something that in every other state, even our own state, is considered ‘medicine,?" Seikel asked. “Except in this state, we let legislators decide and dictate the contents of that medicine.”

Decriminalize Denton said the addition of three new city council members is raising their hopes for change.

The group added that the ordinance was similar to an ordinance in the city of Austin.

Decriminalize Denton argues the enforcement of simple marijuana possession disproportionately affects low-income and minority populations.

“People that typically get arrested for cannabis and get cited are people that don’t have a safe space to use these drugs and those people are disproportionately in poverty,” Seikel said. “What it amounts to is a tax for people who don’t have the safety of doing it in their homes. A lot of upper-middle-class folks, they can just safely use weed in their home, so they are removed from the criminal justice side of this issue.”

The group’s spokesperson, Stanton Brasher, said he was grateful for the opportunity to meet with Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon recently and walked away understanding some of the hesitancy on the part of law enforcement.

“If a violent crime takes place around cannabis, he can use that cannabis as leverage to get information,” Brasher said.

Dr. Alex del Carmen is the associate dean in the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Tarleton State University.

“That criminal justice money can be better spent in tackling bigger crimes, more serious offenses,” he said. “On the other hand, for many years there has been a philosophy in law enforcement that zero tolerance does help in the context of preventing crime.”

According to studies, “small levels of marijuana are not necessarily correlated with violent behavior,” del Carmen said. “They’re not necessarily correlated with those serious crimes that we worry about in our community. While on the other hand, when police presence is there and it shows it has zero-tolerance for petty things, that then those bigger crimes don’t take place either.”

Del Carmen argued that with a rise in crimes in some communities tied to the pandemic, now may be the right time for more communities to prioritize and ease up on small amounts of weed possession.

“I think it’s worth a try, particularly now that we have such a large volume of cases coming through the criminal justice system for real serious offenses,” he said.

The Denton City Council will take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday at 3 p.m.

For more information about the meeting from the city of Denton, click here.

NBC 5 reached out to the Denton Police Department but did not receive a response Monday evening.

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