After Tuesday night’s city council meeting, there appears to be a division among residents in the effort to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in the city of Killeen.
Before the council heard from City Secretary Lucy Aldrich in regards to a petition to decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana possession, the council received an earful from residents about the petition.
Leo Gukeisen, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and former council candidate, offered up his opinions and said that the issue of decriminalization should be simple.
“This is the easiest matter for you as a council to vote on, and the vote should be ‘no,’” Gukeisen said.
Resident Michael Fornino told the council that even in cities where marijuana is legalized, people still buy it off the streets due to it being untaxed.
Among Tuesday night’s crowd was David Bass, the founder of Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana and the members of the decriminalization movement, Louie Minor, Stacey Wilson, and Shirley Fleming. Minor and Wilson are running for spots on the Bell County Commissioners Court and Fleming is a former Killeen mayor pro tem.
“Some officials oppose this because it violates state law… I am here to tell you that the state of Texas, right this minute, is in violation of federal law,” Bass said.
Bass and Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana have successfully lobbied for medical marijuana use for veterans with PTSD.
“I am a legal medical cannabis patient in the state of Texas. I use cannabis everyday legally in the state of Texas. I have a prescription for medical cannabis,” Bass said, “By federal law, as my fellow citizen stated, cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug with no medical use and the federal law prohibits cannabis … But Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Representative Brad Buckley, and the rest of our entire Legislature said no, the federal government is wrong. We will have a medical marijuana program and we will allow David Bass, a 25-year Army veteran, to use cannabis in Killeen legally.”
But Bass’s comments drew a retort from resident Don Baker, who said, “Some of them don’t even have a medical condition, they just want to smoke marijuana.”
The medical marijuana program to which Bass referred is the Compassionate Use Program. It allows patients to use low-THC cannabis for medical conditions such as epilepsy, according to the Texas State Law Library. Patients even include veterans who suffer from PTSD.
Gukeisen argued that the city has no right to pass an ordinance contrary to state statutes.
“Municipalities are subordinate to the state government. The Texas Constitution even specifies that home rule cities cannot, they cannot, pass ordinances that contradict state law,” Gukeisen said.
There are other Texas cities where marijuana has been decriminalized, with Austin making the move last month.
Ground Game Texas saw success in Austin in getting 85% of the city’s voters to pass a ballot measure that would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and no-knock raids in the city.
The Herald reached out to Austin Mayor Steven Adler for his perspective on the efforts in his city but was unable to obtain a comment.
The Herald also reached out to city officials in El Paso regarding that city’s marijuana law, but received no response.
With the exception of Austin, most cities that have decriminalized marijuana are using a “summons and release” program and Killeen would be as well, if the current proposal is enacted.
Summons and release would have the offender go to a location, usually a courthouse, at a later date and handle their charge.
Regarding whether these ordinances would conflict with state law, the Herald reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott for his take on the matter.
“Governor Abbott believes that prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and possession of a small amount of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” Abbott’s Press Secretary Renae Eze said in an email.
According to Minor, Killeen’s draft ordinance states: “Killeen police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses” except in limited circumstances.
These limited circumstances would be a felony level narcotics case or violent felonies.
While a major part of the proposed ordinance seeks to benefit veterans who are seeking marijuana as an alternative to opioid medication, the main talking point is preventing young adults from having their lives ruined from a marijuana arrest.
“Some of the mothers cried while signing this petition,” Fleming said during Tuesday night’s council meeting. “You want to know why? Because they do not want to see their sons going to jail.”
According to documents the city provided to Minor for his open records request, the number of marijuana arrests from January 2019 to May 2021 was 866. Of those arrests, 654 were African-Americans, which equates to 76%.
Ten percent of those arrests were non-Hispanic Whites, the figures showed.
After Minor, Wilson, Fleming, and Oliver held a strategic meeting at Kids University back in December, the Killeen Police Department was quick to issue a statement on the group’s marijuana decriminalization efforts.
“We want the community to know that department does not support to decriminalize marijuana and we will continue to follow the statute, Texas Health and Safety Code 481.121 – Possession of Marijuana, which is the Texas State Law,” KPD said in a release last year.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Minor pointed to KPD Police Chief Charles Kimble’s comments during a King County Public Forum while Kimble was seeking the position of sheriff of King County in Washington state.
During the forum, Kimble was asked about a possible ordinance change in the county where an offender would be provided a right to counsel prior to waiving rights for consent of search.
“I have been a law enforcement officer for 21 years and the law is my guide. Whether the Constitution, the law of the state, the law of the county, even county or municipal ordinances. The law is the guide, OK?” Kimble responded. “The great thing about the law is that all the way back to the 1600s to today, is that it moves. It’s not static. It depends on what is going on at the time. And can I support King County for providing extra protections to the youth of this community? Absolutely.”
Minor made it no secret that he is critical of KPD and Chief Kimble for their response to the decriminalization efforts.
After Tuesday’s meeting Minor said he found Kimble’s comment during the forum hypocritical, since KPD’s statement on the matter makes it appear that the department will continue to enforce state law, even if the ordinance is passed.
The Herald reached out to KPD and Kimble for a statement in regards to Minor’s criticisms but both were unable to be reached.
While the council did not go into depth about the ordinance or provide comments, there was a motion of direction from Mayor Pro Tem Ken Wilkerson for there to be a public hearing on July 19, which the council passed unanimously. Bass and the proposed ordinance’s backers remain hopeful about what’s next.
When asked about how he felt how the meeting went, Bass responded with a smile.
“This is exactly how government is supposed to work,” Bass said.