In November, a huge majority of voters in Denton, Texas approved a measure decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses. On Tuesday, leaders in the city defied those results.
By a margin of 4-3, the Denton city council voted “against adopting the ordinance that would have decriminalized marijuana,” CBS News Texas reported.
According to the station, more than “30 people spoke before the vote including several Denton police officers who say marijuana possession cases lead to searches which helps combat illegal guns and gang activity.”
“But supporters of marijuana use say it’s harmless and that there are legitimate and therapeutic applications for both clinical conditions and stresses of modern life,” the station reported.
Following the vote, the mayor of Denton “insisted that police officers still have the discretion not to cite or arrest for marijuana possession but advocates want more assurance they won’t be prosecuted,” according to CBS News Texas.
Tuesday’s vote marks a dramatic reversal of November’s election, when more than 70% of voters in Denton approved a proposed ordinance to decriminalize misdemeanor pot offenses.
The ordinance was placed on a ballot following a vote by the Denton city council last summer.
The Cross Timbers Gazette, a local newspaper, reported in November that under the new ordinance “Denton police officers will no longer write tickets or make arrests for possession of small amounts of pot and paraphernalia, and they’ll no longer stop and frisk people when they smell weed.”
The paper reported then that the “new ordinance will not apply when Denton police are investigating felony crimes, nor will it apply to state and federal agencies or to the Texas Woman’s University and University of North Texas jurisdictions.”
But there were early signs of cracks in the ordinance’s implementation.
In February, NBC DFW reported that Denton’s “city manager presented a report outlining reasons why the ordinance is challenging to implement” during a work session.
“I recognize 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,” the city manager, Sara Hensley, said at the time, as quoted by the news station.
In her report, Hensley contended that the new ordinance “is superseded by the ‘Texas Code of Criminal Procedure,’ which requires officers to enforce state law.”
“Texas cities and police departments are ‘prohibited from adopting a policy that does not fully enforce state and federal laws relating to drugs’ and ‘the city manager and chief of police cannot direct otherwise,’ according to the city,” the station reported.
“I do not have the authority to direct the police chief to not enforce the law,” Hensley said, according to NBC DFW.
Texas legislators have recently signaled a desire to change the state’s marijuana laws.
In March, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 9-0 in favor of a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of weed.
“I’ve been on a journey with this one. The essence of this bill is really simple even though the language may be a little bit confusing,” the bill’s sponsor, state House Rep. Joseph Moody said at a hearing in March. “There are tens of thousands of arrests for personal use possession in Texas annually and those cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, not to mention countless hours of law enforcement and prosecutor time. They also tag people, mostly young people, with criminal records that create life-long obstacles to jobs, education, housing and other opportunities. That’s an awful investment and an awful outcome any way you slice it.”