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Bell County cities decriminalizing low levels of marijuana may face legal challenges

KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) – Some Central Texans may be celebrating now that marijuana is being decriminalized in two Bell County cities. But officials said the adoption of this proposal could be challenged.

Proposition A passed Tuesday with overwhelming support: 64% voted yes in Harker Heights while 69% voted yes in Killeen.

In both cities, the measure would decriminalize possession of less than four ounces of marijuana for personal use and no longer allow law enforcement to stop someone for smelling the drug.

KWTX News 10 spoke with two Killeen council members who gave different versions about the next steps. A city spokesman later explained that councilors would simply canvass, or verify, the votes on November 22. This is common practice for any election.

After the votes were verified, former Killeen Mayor and current Killeen City Councilman Jose Segarra said the council will meet with an attorney to discuss next steps.

“We have to figure out what the next steps are because we’ve never had anything on our ballot that directly contradicts state law,” he said.

Since 1931, it has been illegal to use or possess marijuana under Texas state law. Segarra said the board could hold a vote among board members depending on recommendations from their attorney.

When asked if there’s any chance this proposal won’t go into effect, Segarra said that’s what the council is trying to figure out now with their lawyer.

Jerry Bank, assistant city manager for the city of Harker Heights, told KWTX News 10 that two steps remain for the proposal to take effect. First, the Harker Heights City Council must muster the votes. Then the ordinance must be published in its entirety in the newspaper.

Once the ordinance is adopted, the City Council can amend or repeal it. Bank released the following statement in part to KWTX News 10:

“The City staff believes, after consultation with the City Attorney, that the initiative ordinance is inconsistent with the State Constitution. As a result, it will be our recommendation to the City Council to repeal the ordinance in its entirety.

The City takes no position on the issue of legalizing marijuana. The state of Texas establishes these laws and if the public desires changes to these laws, the state legislature is the appropriate place to seek those changes.”

One concern in Killeen that currently runs afoul of state law is the legislative session at the Capitol right around the corner.

“We’re always looking for funding from our state and we’re always lobbying the state, whether it’s roads or tax incentives,” Segarra said. “I just don’t want them to come back and say ‘well, you’re not following our state laws.'”

He expects both sides of the coin to fight it out in the courts.

“It’s going to be interesting on the next steps forward to see what happens as both sides battle it out and they get ready to see what happens at the state level,” he said.

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