Killeen Got Sued by the Texas Attorney General

Killeen Got Sued by the Texas Attorney GeneralTexas is known for being tough on drug crimes. The state has some of the strictest drug laws in the U.S., with severe penalties for drug-related offenses. Texas classifies drugs into different penalty groups based on their potential for abuse and their medicinal value, with penalties ranging from fines to lengthy prison sentences, depending on factors such as the type and amount of drugs involved, prior criminal history, and whether the offense occurred in a drug-free zone.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift toward treatment and rehabilitation for certain drug offenses, particularly for non-violent offenders and those charged with possession of small amounts of drugs. In November 2022, five Texas cities passed Proposition A to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession within city limits, forbid local police officers from issuing citations or arresting citizens for possession of four ounces or less of marijuana, and prohibit the use of no-knock warrants. However, the state still imposes harsh punishments for drug trafficking, manufacturing, and distribution offenses.

Texas AG sues Killeen and other cities over Proposition A

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed lawsuits against the cities of Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos for approving amnesty and non-prosecution policies in violation of Texas laws related to marijuana possession and distribution. The cities adopted ordinances or policies directing law enforcement personnel not to enforce Texas drug laws concerning possession and distribution of marijuana.

According to Texas Local Government Code, political subdivisions are forbidden from adopting “a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.” Under the Texas Constitution, it is illegal for municipalities to pass ordinances that are inconsistent with laws enacted by the Texas Legislature. Said Attorney General Paxton:

I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities. 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.

Although Killeen voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition A in November 2022, by the end of the year, Bell County Commissioners voted unanimously to sue the city and force it to drop the ordinance. While some Killeen City Council members say they voted for Proposition A because nearly 70 percent of the voters supported it; those council members are now defendants in the Attorney General’s lawsuit.

What is drug decriminalization?

Decriminalization eliminates criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use, but does not permit the manufacture, distribution, or commercial sale of drugs. Instead of facing arrests and convictions, people caught with low levels of drugs may receive civil fines or mandatory treatment. Decriminalization is a harm reduction strategy  to shift the focus from punishment to public health by treating drug abuse as a disease and a health issue rather than solely a criminal offense.

In 2023, the United Nations released a report that supports ending criminal penalties for drug use. According to UN High Commissioner Volker Türk, “States should move away from the current dominant focus on prohibition, repression and punishment, and instead embrace laws, policies and practices anchored in human rights and aimed at harm reduction.” The UN found that “disproportionate use of criminal penalties discourages people who use drugs from seeking treatment and feeds stigma and social exclusion.” According to the report, almost 660,000 people worldwide die from drug-related causes each year.

Unfortunately, legalizing possession but not production and sale of drugs does not eliminate the thriving illegal market, so many problems remain despite decriminalization. In Oregon, for example, incidences of violence and overdoses did not drop even after decriminalizing small quantities of all drugs under Measure 110, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. However, Oregon drug overdose deaths increased 39.4 percent the year after 110 went into effect, compared to the same period a year before, while the U.S. rate increased 13.8 percent.

The pros and cons of decriminalizing marijuana

Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C. have made medical cannabis legal. Twenty-states and D.C. have legalized recreational use. Decriminalizing marijuana has both pros and cons, such as:

Pros of decriminalization

  • Federal law bans the possession of all amounts of drugs, which many say contributes to a thriving black market.
  • Legalization would remove cannabis from the underground illegal market, making it subject to taxation and regulation.
  • Cannabis could be purchased from legitimate businesses subject to oversight, testing, quality control, and proper labeling of products.
  • Numerous people who suffer from chronic pain say cannabis improved their quality of life.
  • Because drug laws are sometimes used to criminalize minorities and people of color, legalizing cannabis might help lower the over policing of these populations.

Cons of decriminalization

  • Many people are using cannabis to self-medicate, making the benefit of it subjective and difficult to determine.
  • Some people develop cannabis use disorder, which can lead to behavior or psychological changes that appear during or soon after cannabis use.
  • Cannabis use in those with developing brains could put them at greater risk of using other substances later on.
  • Criminal penalties against drug users can result in substantial harm, including difficulty obtaining employment, loss of public housing, loss of individual freedoms, and deportation.

Are you facing marijuana possession charges in Texas? At the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our Killeen criminal defense attorneys have years of experience representing people who have possessed various amounts of drugs and understand that a drug conviction can impact you for the rest of your life. Call or fill out our contact form to set up an initial consultation today. We maintain an office in Killeen and one in Copperas Cover, and proudly represent clients throughout Central Texas, including in Belton, Harker Heights, Waco, Williamson County, Bell County, Coryell County, and McLennan County.