Texas Cities Push Back Against Paxton Marijuana Law Suits

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton | Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a series of lawsuits in January against five Texas cities for their adoption of amnesty and non-prosecution policies regarding marijuana possession and distribution — but some of those cities are actively fighting the lawsuits and enforcement laws.

In 2022, voters in Austin, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Denton approved ballot measures to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. After Paxton’s January 2024 lawsuits, Denton, Elgin, and Killeen stood by their initiative to halt citations and arrests for marijuana possession, except in specific circumstances.

In March, Killeen’s executive director of communications, Janell J. Lewis Ford, announced that the city would file a response to Paxton’s suit, according to an email provided to the Killeen Daily Herald.

Paxton’s lawsuits assert that these policies violate Texas laws governing drug enforcement. According to the lawsuits, political subdivisions are prohibited from adopting policies that include non-enforcement of drug laws. Additionally, Paxton claims the Texas Constitution implies that municipalities cannot adopt ordinances inconsistent with state laws enacted by the Texas Legislature, according to an official statement via the attorney general’s website.

He has condemned the cities’ actions, saying they are promoting the use of illicit drugs. He further emphasized the importance of upholding the rule of law and the value of preventing municipalities from selectively enforcing laws.

“I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law,” said Paxton. “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 also pointed out the role of district attorneys in contributing to what he described as a “deadly national crimewave” through abuse of prosecutorial discretion.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has made headlines for his alleged refusal to enforce the law in a number of cases, including in the case of Texas’ abortion ban and his short-lived “theft amnesty” non-prosecutorial policy for thefts valued at under $750. It has also been previously reported that he relaxed marijuana enforcement back in 2019.

Decriminalize Denton, a grassroots organization, has moved to intervene in Paxton’s lawsuit against the City of Denton. The organization is actively seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that Paxton has no legal standing.

“Decrim Denton was established in 2020 to deprioritize misdemeanor cannabis possession enforcement (under 4oz) by the City of Denton police,” said founder Deb Armintor in an email to The Dallas Express.

“When our model ordinance was rejected by a majority on Denton’s seven-member city council, we took it to the people, launching the Proposition B ballot petition initiative, which easily received the required number of registered Denton voter signatures to make the 2022 November ballot. As Prob B, our decriminalization ordinance won by an unprecedented majority and number of votes in a Denton election, winning with 73% of the vote citywide,” she said.

Armintor believes the lawsuit is likely just a political maneuver to divert attention from Paxton’s own legal issues.

Decriminalize Denton’s attorney, Richard Gladden, agreed with Armintor.

“The lawsuit filed by Ken Paxton is frivolous. It should be subject to sanctions because he is obviously attempting to use a judicial forum for political stunts, which is something he frequently does,” he said.

“I expect Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against the City of Denton to be dismissed, and unlike Ken Paxton, neither the City of Denton nor Decriminalize Denton will be required to do community service or pay $300,000 to the people who were screwed over when engaging in conduct [low-level marijuana arrests],” Gladden added.

Sara Hensley, Denton’s city manager, has consistently said that the city will not enforce the entirety of the voter-approved ordinance from early November 2022, citing conflicts with state law.

In late May 2023, the City of Denton issued a press release detailing the marijuana-related offenses reported by Denton police from November 9, 2022 (following the passage of a voter-approved ordinance) through May 2, 2023. As per the release, Denton police issued 46 citations for marijuana-related offenses, six citations for marijuana-related offenses in connection with arrests for other crimes, and made three arrests during this period, according to KERA.

Furthermore, between May 3, 2023, and January 6, 2024, Denton police issued 64 citations for marijuana offenses and cited and arrested 19 individuals based on data obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Gladden updated The Dallas Express on the status of the City of Denton’s case.

“A hearing on Decrim Denton’s motion to dismiss Paxton’s lawsuit against the City of Denton has been set for May 31 at 9:30 a.m. in the 481st District Court in Denton, other motions by the parties involved will also be heard at this hearing,” he said. “A similar hearing will take place concerning the Paxton lawsuits and the City of Elgin early [this] week as well, at the Bastrop County Courthouse.”

Citizens should still be aware that in the majority of jurisdictions within the State of Texas, possession of under two ounces of marijuana is presently deemed a Class B misdemeanor, with enforced penalties including up to a maximum of 180 days incarceration along with a maximum fine of $2000.

The Dallas Express reached out to the Denton Police Department and Elgin Police Department for further comments on the situation but has not received a response.

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