KILLEEN, Texas — Despite recreational marijuana still being illegal both at a state and federal levels, Killeen residents will vote on a measure that could decriminalize it in their city this Election Day.
"It would decriminalize so that people won't be arrested for that if that's the only thing they could be arrested for," Amanda Hughes with Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy told 25 News. "It would not prohibit investigations for a felony or any other drug charges or anything over four ounces."
If Proposition A passes, Killeen PD officers would no longer be able to arrest or charge citizens for Class A or B marijuana possession or use the smell as probable cause for search and seizure.
During a recent public forum on Proposition A, opposers voiced their concerns about the conflicting measures. Bell County Commissioner Candidate Christopher Bray was one of the three-panel members who spoke out against it.
"Marijuana is not going to be legalized or decriminalized," Bray said. "That's not going to happen because that ordinance would be illegal and in direct violation of state law."
Bray said he had a few key concerns with the measure, the biggest being the limitations it will put on Killeen police officers.
"They are supposed to be disciplined for basically doing what the state law allows," Bray said. "So effectively this proposition makes them go against their oath. They're supporting Texas law."
"What Proposition A proposes is that we prohibit and subsequently punish our police officers for enforcing a crime that our legislature has dually enacted," fellow panel member and Killeen ISD Board of Trustees Member Oliver Mintz said.
The Killeen Police Department denied a request to interview but released a statement earlier this year saying the department "does not support to decriminalize marijuana" and they "will continue to follow ... the Texas state law."
This comes despite roughly 2,500 Killeen supporters signing the petition to have it added to this year's ballot.
"Any of y'all who might've signed that petition were offered some type of false hope that it's going to do something for you, it's really not," Bray said during the forum.
"A lot of things people say in this city is they want the crime rate to go down, how is this going to help that? Is that going to help? No," another opposition panel member and former mayor of Killeen Jose Segarrai said. "I think being that we're the only one, it's going to attract more people to come here."
Killeen is one of five cities statewide with decriminalizing marijuana on their ballot. Voters in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights and San Marcos will also get a chance to vote on this controversial topic.
"The majority of Texans support legalizing marijuana, so this is just the first step in doing that - legalizing it at the local level," a speaker on the pro-Prop A panel and member of Ground Game Texas, Julie Oliver, told 25 News.
According to a 2021 poll from the University of Texas, only 13 percent of Texans say marijuana should not be legalized at all.
27 percent said it should be legal for medical purposes only, 31 percent support legalizing a small amount for any reason, and 29 percent would support legalizing any amount for any reason in Texas.
"Our state leaders are not listening to their communities. They aren't listening to veterans who've been begging them for years for a real medical marijuana program," Oliver said. "This eliminates enforcement for just misdemeanor possession so if a veteran needs cannabis to treat let's say chronic pain, which is not currently part of the compassionate use program, they can use cannabis without threat and fear of getting arrested or cited."
David Bass is the founder of Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana. He said the plant saved his life.
"I became addicted and dependent to these pills I was being prescribed for PTSD and chronic pain from injuries," he said. "I took the pills from '05-2012, but by 2012 I didn't like the effects of all these pills, and I read that a lot of veterans were using cannabis."
Bass said using cannabis helped him recover from a pill addiction, even though it wasn't legal in Texas.
"I didn't want to break the law in Texas," Bass said. "I am a peaceful, law-abiding, hardworking Texan but it was a clear choice. Either the pills or use cannabis illegally and I felt like the pills were going to kill me."
Supporters of Prop A say right now law enforcement isn't seeing the full picture, leading to more incarcerations.
A 2022 analysis of marijuana possession arrests in Texas for the years 2017 to 2019 reported that African Americans made up over 3 percent of all possession arrests. But according to Norml.org, Black people comprised less than 13 percent of the state's population.
"So many of our minority's lives have been ruined because the police department has apprehended them because they had less than 4 ounces of marijuana in their car," supporter and former Killeen City Councilmember Shirley Fleming said.
Supporters say Prop A would make a fairer justice system for all that live in Killeen.