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Bell County candidate favors support to decriminalize marijuana in Killeen

Candidate for Bell County Commissioner Louie Minor is supporting an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana. But that's not full legalization, and questions remain.

KILLEEN, Texas — Louie Minor is running for Bell County Commissioner Precinct 4. Working with former Killeen Councilwoman Shirley Fleming, he has more than 2,500 signatures for an ordinance decriminalizing Marijuana in Killeen. 

Minor told 6 News he should easily have enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot in November. 6 News Legal Expert Liz Mitchell said the ordinance could create some complicated situations for both Killeen residents and the Killeen Police Department. Decriminalizing the substance, she said, is not the same as legalizing it.  

The ordinance, which can be found here, states, "Killeen police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses, except in the limited circumstances..."

It also prohibits Killeen police from using the odor of marijuana or hemp as probable cause for any search or seizure, except in limited circumstances.

The ordinance would only allow police to make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana if those arrests are part of an investigation into a felony offense or a violent crime. 

"It's going to prohibit the City of Killeen police officers from arresting or testing low level marijuana possession. Low level is going to be four ounces and below," Minor said. 

Minor said marijuana can help a lot of people in the area, including its veteran population and nearly everyone he has come across is supportive. 

"There is a lot of veterans that live here who suffer from PTSD and a lot of them do not want to use narcotics. They've been hooked on narcotics. They looked at marijuana -- edibles, whatever they smoke -- they use that as medicine and it works from them for what I'm told."

Minor said they were also pushing for recreational use as well.

Minor plans to turn in the petition to the City of Killeen on May 20. He said the city council will have the option to adopt an ordinance or put it on the ballot in November. He expects it to be placed on the ballot. 

At the same time, 6 News Legal Expert Liz Mitchell told 6 News the ordinance is not quite as simple as it sounds. Decriminalization of marijuana does not make it legal and does not completely protect citizens from being prosecuted. 

Decriminalization, in this case, would mean the Killeen Police Department would not prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Bell County District Attorney's office, however, could still bring Class A or Class B misdemeanor charges against a Killeen citizen for possession of the substance if they chose to as it would still be illegal in Texas. 

Additionally, selling or "distributing" marijuana can still easily be a felony the ordinance would not provide any protection in that case. 

"It would still be illegal to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute or possess over certain amounts of marijuana. So it's starting to get complicated," Mitchell said. 

Mitchell said an officer could still make an arrest if they believe the person holding the substance for profit.

Mitchell also told 6 News, if voters approved the ordinance, it would still need the explicit support of the city's police chief to be effective. Police can use possession of marijuana as probable cause for a search which can then help them take guns or other drugs off the street and Mitchell said the chief may be hesitant to lose that option. She said it could also present a professional dilemma. 

"They take an oath to uphold the laws and it is still technically in the code of criminal procedure, still on the books, still against the law to possess marijuana," Mitchell said.   

Mitchell said there would be less gray area if such an ordinance was implemented at a county level, and supported by the district attorney, so residents don't face different types of enforcement in different areas of the county. 

Minor told 6 News he may consider supporting such a measure in the future but feels the county is halfway there. 

"It's almost happening now at the county level. I've spoken with the sheriff and he said they don't accept misdemeanor arrests for marijuana because it's overcrowded," Minor said.  

Killeen residents can still sign the petition before it is turned in next week. You can download the petition here.