Dallas Proposal Could Decriminalize Low Levels of Marijuana | Dallas Observer

Dallas City Council Members Propose Decriminalizing Small Amounts of Marijuana

The push for marijuana decriminalization in Dallas just got a little stronger.
Despite city policies and police general orders, people are still being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Dallas.
Despite city policies and police general orders, people are still being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Dallas. Danny S., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Dallas City Council member Chad West says he will be propose a City Charter amendment this month to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Supporting his efforts are his fellow council members Adam Bazaldua, Jaime Resendez and Zarin Gracey.

West will propose the amendment at the June 26 City Council meeting, he said in a press release Friday. If passed by a majority of the City Council, it will go on the November 2024 ballot along with other proposed city charter amendments.

The proposal mirrors efforts of the Dallas Freedom Act, which seeks to place marijuana decriminalization in the city’s charter. Organizers have gathered more than 50,000 signatures on the Dallas Freedom Act petition, but West says a City Council-proposed charter amendment, instead of one proposed by petition, will save the city time and resources.

The amendment would direct the Dallas Police Department to stop issuing citations and making arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession. Several other cities across Texas have decriminalized marijuana with over 70% voter approval, including Austin, Denton, Killeen and San Marcos, but those efforts have been met with opposition by Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton. He has sued all of those cities for decriminalizing marijuana.

“Voters in our city and across the country want to decriminalize marijuana,” West said in a press release. “Our already burdened police should focus their attention on serious crime, not arresting people with small amounts of marijuana.”

“I would hope the attorney general would support and respect the strong will of Dallas residents on this issue." – Chad West, Dallas City Council

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Asked how he expected Paxton to respond to his amendment if it passes, West told the Observer, “I would hope the attorney general would support and respect the strong will of Dallas residents on this issue. However, based on past actions, I am not optimistic.”

After a proposal by Bazaldua in 2021, Dallas police enacted a general order to stop arrests for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. “For the past four years I have advocated for our council to implement this kind of initiative,” Bazaldua said in the press release. “Our jails are overfilled with predominantly Brown and Black males serving sentences for a substance that is making others millions of dollars in more than 30 states across the country. It’s past time we take action against this injustice.”

Even under the DPD general order, arrests for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana continue in the city, Resendez said.

“Despite the positive steps taken by the city and DPD in recent years, marijuana-related arrests continue, and racial disparities persist,” he said in the press release. “Although marijuana use is comparable across racial lines, Black and Latino individuals are disproportionately arrested and punished. Decriminalization is the best way to address this disparity."

Gracey said the criminalization of marijuana has led to unnecessary arrests, criminal records and a cycle of disadvantage that hinders economic and social progress. “Decriminalizing marijuana is not just about changing laws; it's about rectifying decades of injustice and ensuring that our legal system is fair and equitable for all,” Gracey said in the press release

Former City Council member Philip Kingston said in the press release that many on the council have tried to decriminalize marijuana with marginal success at best, despite overwhelming support by residents. In 2017, the city passed a cite-and-release program for marijuana possession.

However, in 2018 it was reported by The Dallas Morning News that Dallas police were using cite-and-release in only a fraction of marijuana cases. Kingston said, “Amending the charter will provide clear and unmistakable instruction, enforceable by law, to city officials to avoid the pointless harm caused by treating marijuana users as criminals.” 
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