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Denton city staff respond to marijuana decriminalization ordinance

Denton city staff respond to marijuana decriminalization ordinance
Denton city staff respond to marijuana decriminalization ordinance 02:09

DENTON (CBSDFW.COM) - While certifying the votes from the November election Tuesday, Denton's city council made it clear the city follow the will of the voters when it comes to how police enforce marijuana laws.

Man smoking marijuana cigarette outside on sunset
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Despite accusations the city was trying to "overthrow" an election, council members declined to direct the city manager to enforce the rule, which would prevent police from using the smell of marijuana to search someone, or arrest or cite them for possessing small amounts of the drug.

The city manager and mayor said the city would continue to treat possession as a low priority crime. However they believe enacting all the elements of the proposition would likely be a violation of state law.

The decision comes two weeks after Denton was one of at least five Texas cities to pass a proposition, decriminalizing the drug. That followed a similar decision in Austin earlier in the year.

The capitol city's ordinance was identical to the one in Denton, said Nick Stevens with Decriminalize Denton, the organization that collected signatures to get the issue on the ballot. Comments from leaders that they still respected the will of the voters rang hollow with him.

"Yeah, I can interpret that, which is that 'we respect them so much that we're going to overthrow an election'," he said.

Several residents spoke at the Tuesday morning meeting, urging elected officials to instruct city staff to implement the rule, but they declined to.

In a memo the day after the ordinance passed, city manager Sara Hensley explained state law still prohibited possession, police could still enforce state law, and she had no authority to direct police to violate that law.

Mayor Gerard Hudspeth said although the charter allowed residents to petition for a vote, it also prohibited him from interfering with the city managers directions to the police department. He also saw the uniformity of political leanings in Austin and Travis County as being key to the measure working there, but being more difficult to implement in Denton.

"Ultimately, I would tell, you, I would represent to you, that there's no difference in what Austin is doing and what we're doing because officers have discretion," he said.

The city is not ignoring the proposition entirely, with the city manager agreeing to return in a public meeting in three months, to report on the implementation, as the new ordinance requires.

Another city council where voters passed the proposition, Harker Heights, planned to consider repealing it Tuesday night.

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