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City Officials Want To Decriminalize ‘Low-Level’ Marijuana Offenses

Marijuana leaves | Image by YARphotographer/Shutterstock
Marijuana leaves | Image by YARphotographer/Shutterstock

A member of the Dallas City Council will be proposing to decriminalize “low-level” marijuana possession.

Council Member Chad West (District 1) sent a press release to The Dallas Express announcing that he plans to propose to amend the City Charter to allow for the decriminalization of “small amounts” of marijuana at the upcoming June 26 Dallas City Council meeting.

West, with the backing of some other council members, noted that the initiative was being driven by the disparity in the rates of arrests of black and Hispanic males compared to individuals of different races for this particular offense.

Council Member Jaime Resendez (District 5) said in the press release, “Despite the positive steps taken by the city and DPD in recent years, marijuana-related arrests continue, and racial disparities persist. 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.”

This has apparently been a point of discussion among Dallas City Council members for some time. In 2021, Council Member Adam Bazaldua (District 7) said: “For the past four years I have advocated for our council to implement this kind of initiative. … Our jails are overfilled with predominately 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.”

Council Member Zarin Gracey (District 3) agreed with Bazaldua.

“For too long, the criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately affected marginalized communities, leading to unnecessary arrests, criminal records, and a cycle of disadvantage that hinders economic and social progress,” said Gracey, per the press release. “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.”

The proposal aligns with the Dallas Freedom Act petition, which calls for the Dallas Police Department to cease issuing citations or making arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession. Several other cities in Texas, such as Austin, Denton, Killeen, and San Marcos, have already decriminalized marijuana possession to varying degrees.

A common misconception when it comes to decriminalizing marijuana is that some may think it means the substance would now be considered legal. Ground Game Texas explains this is not the case: “… legalization must happen at the state or federal level.”

Still, Attorney General Ken Paxton has moved to check the cities decriminalizing certain marijuana offenses, arguing that such measures are against the law.

“This unconstitutional action by municipalities demonstrates why Texas must have a law to ‘follow the law.’ It’s quite simple: the legislature passes every law after a full debate on the issues, and we don’t allow cities the ability to create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce,” he said earlier this year.

Still, decriminalization activists in Dallas are moving ahead with the push.

“ Together we’ve collected 50,000 signatures for the Dallas Freedom Act, a charter amendment that will reform marijuana enforcement, redress historic discrimination, end marijuana criminalization, and save millions in much needed public funds,” said Catina Voellinger, executive director of Ground Game Texas, per West’s press release.

If approved by the Dallas City Council, the amendment would be included on the November 2024 ballot alongside other proposed City Charter revisions.

In Dallas, there have been 4,839 drug offenses logged by the City this year, an 8.4% increase over the 4,465 crimes clocked during the same period in 2023, according to the City of Dallas crime analytics dashboard.

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