Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against five Texas cities that have passed ordinances to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. The lawsuit claims that the ordinances violate state law and undermine public safety. The cities include Denton, where 70% of voters approved the decriminalization measure in 2020.
Texas is one of the few states that has not legalized or decriminalized marijuana in any form. Under state law, possessing up to two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. However, some cities in Texas have passed local ordinances that make low-level marijuana possession a civil offense, subject to a fine of $100 or less, and no arrest or criminal record.
The cities argue that the ordinances are within their local authority, and that they help save law enforcement resources, reduce racial disparities, and respect the will of the voters. The cities also point out that the ordinances do not legalize marijuana, but only reduce the penalties for possession.
However, the Attorney General disagrees, and has sued the cities for violating state law and public policy. The lawsuit claims that the ordinances create confusion and inconsistency in the enforcement of state law, and that they endanger public health and safety by encouraging marijuana use and trafficking. The lawsuit also claims that the ordinances interfere with the state’s ability to regulate controlled substances, and that they are preempted by state law.
A response from the cities and advocates
The cities and the advocates for marijuana decriminalization have responded to the lawsuit, and have vowed to defend their ordinances in court. They have also criticized the Attorney General for wasting taxpayer money and time on a frivolous lawsuit, and for ignoring the voice of the people.
The Denton City Council, which passed the ordinance in 2020 after a citizen-led petition, issued a statement saying that the ordinance is lawful and reasonable, and that it reflects the values and priorities of the Denton community. The council also said that the ordinance has not caused any negative impacts on public safety or law enforcement, and that it has helped reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.
The Texas Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the decriminalization campaigns in the cities, also issued a statement saying that the lawsuit is an attack on democracy and local control, and that it is out of touch with the majority of Texans who support marijuana reform. The group also said that the lawsuit is a distraction from the real issues facing the state, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the power grid failure, and the abortion ban.
The lawsuit is the latest development in the ongoing debate over marijuana policy in Texas, where the state legislature has failed to pass any meaningful reforms, despite growing public support and pressure. The lawsuit is also likely to face legal challenges and opposition from the cities and the advocates, who will argue that the ordinances are valid and beneficial.
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