Dentonites Have a Little More Time To Get Cannabis Decriminalization on November Ballot

As the law stands in Denton now, you can still get cited for misdemeanor amounts of cannabis.
As the law stands in Denton now, you can still get cited for misdemeanor amounts of cannabis. Malen Blackmon
Local advocate group Decriminalize Denton has been collecting signatures since February for a petition to let voters decide the fate of cannabis in their city. They’re about to cross the finish line, and they're one step closer to their goal.

Last week the group announced it had gathered and verified 2,100 signatures, the minimum required to get their decriminalization ordinance on the city's November general election ballot. They’ve been aiming for 3,000 just in case, so they extended their initial deadline of April 20 to May 3.

“After careful consideration and calculation, we have decided to extend our signature deadline a few days to ensure that we have a comfortable amount of valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot,” the group said in a post on social media. “We’ve come too far and put in too much work to risk not making the ballot.”

Decriminalize Denton will collect signatures from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday outside the Denton Civic Center, which is also an early voting location.

If approved by voters in November, the ordinance would prevent Denton police from citing or arresting for misdemeanor marijuana possession unless it’s part of a broader, high-priority narcotics case. There’s also an exception for when a felony is involved. THC tests would only be allowed when investigating a violent felony, and class C misdemeanor citations for possession of drug residue or drug paraphernalia would be prohibited under the ordinance. 

“Come vote and sign the petition.” – Decriminalize Denton

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Tristan Seikel, organizer and co-founder of Decriminalize Denton, said the future seems promising, but there's still more work to be done.

"Once our ordinance is on the ballot, we do feel confident that the majority of Dentonites will vote in favor of it as we’ve already had a substantial amount of voters in the city sign on to our petition," Seikel said. "However, we plan to do extensive outreach and educational engagement with our community across the summer and fall to help get out the vote."

These most recent efforts can be traced to 2019, when the state legalized low-THC cannabis (called “hemp”) and one Denton City Council member proposed decriminalizing small amounts of the plant all together.

Outgoing City Council member Deb Armintor pitched a moratorium on arrests and citations for small amounts of cannabis at the time, but it failed to get support from the rest of the council. Armintor made a similar pitch in 2021. This time around, the City Council was run by a liberal majority. Despite this, the effort failed, prompting Decriminalize Denton to set its sights on the November election.

Seikel told the Observer in February: “As we’ve seen with both the conservative majority and now a liberal majority on council, we don’t have a council right now that’s willing to move forward with something more encompassing, like a complete decriminalization ordinance. That’s why we have pivoted now to going a ballot route. The good news about that is we’re not alone in doing this.”

Decriminalize Denton has been inspired by a group called Ground Game Texas, which got the Austin Freedom Act placed on the May 7 uniform election ballot in Austin. The Austin Freedom Act would halt enforcement of low-level weed offenses and ban “no-knock” warrants in the city.

Seikel said the lack of movement on the state level has forced them to take matters into their own hands at the local level. Through efforts like theirs and Ground Game Texas, they hope for de facto decriminalization across the state.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn