Julie Oliver, an Austin Democrat who ran for Congress in 2020, is organizing efforts to decriminalize marijuana in the city of Killeen.
“We just feel that there is far more serious and worse crimes for KPD to focus on rather than someone carrying less than 2 ounces of marijuana,” Oliver said of the Killeen Police Department.
To discuss her plans with local Democrats, she is slated on Wednesday to be at Kids University, an after-school facility in Killeen where youth events are held.
Two local Democrats, Louie Minor, who is running for a Bell County commissioner’s seat, and former Killeen councilwoman Shirley Fleming, also said they will be going to the meeting with Oliver.
Fleming called and invited the Herald to attend and cover the Wednesday meeting at Kids University. However, Oliver said Friday the Herald is not invited because it is a “planning” meeting.
However, Fleming seems to be treating the Wednesday meeting a little differently.
“We want people to come out and share their views and that includes young people,” Fleming said, adding she also invited Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble.
Killeen police on Saturday clarified that Kimble declined the invitation.
"In fact, he declined the invitation on several occasions. No member of the Killeen Police Department will be in attendance," Killeen Police Department said in a statement about the issue. "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."
Fleming said there will also be three teenagers at the event with an age range from 16 to up, Fleming said of the Wednesday event.
Fleming said she hopes that this event will bring out young voters and get them more involved with politics.
“We want to hear their input and we hope to bring a lot of young voters out with this event. We want to hear from everyone,” Fleming said,
When asked if the meeting place, Kids University, may send the wrong message, the Democrats gave varied responses.
“I don’t think it would cause a problem. Do you think it would cause a problem?” Fleming asked the Herald.
Minor and Oliver said that the meeting does not at all condone drug use.
“We are not telling kids to smoke marijuana at this meeting. We are telling law enforcement to stop arresting people for low level marijuana possession,” Oliver said.
“It was the only place we could get that could hold the rest of us,” Fleming said, adding she had permission from the owner of Kids University to hold the meeting there. “We could of had the meeting at a church but we didn’t want to have it at a church.”
When it came to having teenagers at the meeting, Oliver said that she believes teens have a lot of opinions and concerns when it comes to marijuana decriminalization.
“A teenager getting arrested for carrying less than 2 ounces of marijuana could be extremely damaging to their futures so I am sure they do have a lot to say,” Oliver said.
In states where marijuana is legal, the age limit is 21 or over.
Oliver added that she is organizing a separate Jan. 14 event in Killeen, which she described as a “press conference” in which the public would be invited. a location for that event is to be determined, Oliver said.
As of now, the group is having people sign a petition on bringing marijuana decriminalization into the city of Killeen. Fleming said that they need at least 16,000 signatures.
“Right now, we are creating a petition and going out and talking to people who are registered voters and seeing what their views are on marijuana decriminalization,” Fleming said.
When it comes to decriminalization, Fleming puts it this way: “Let’s say if you’re driving your car and the cops pull you over for your light being out but if they can smell marijuana in the car, they can arrest you for having less than two ounces of marijuana and that’s something that we want to change,”
Minor said that they are pursuing an ordinance that will place a ban on testing marijuana and hemp since Minor said that it is too costly for the the city of Killeen.
“Both marijuana and hemp look the same and smell the same but hemp lacks the THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) content,” Minor said, “You have to send it in to get it tested to see if it is marijuana or hemp but removing that will remove their ability to arrest people for low level marijuana possession,”
Minor, who was once a police officer in the city of Troy shared a story when he arrested a college student for a marijuana offense.
“I remembered it was just seeds and stems but I was able to gather up enough for a small bag and I arrested him for it,” Minor said, “And it still sticks with me because I wonder if I ruined his life for just a small amount of marijuana,”
In June of last year, Minor put in a public information request regarding the marijuana arrests made in Killeen and found that there was a major racial disparity of arrests.
“I saw that 86% to 90% of arrests were people of color,” Minor said.
Oliver echoed this as well.
“There is marijuana usage across all demographics but what we have seen with these public records requests that a vast majority of these arrests are people of color,” Oliver said.
Oliver also mentioned that while running for Congress she talked with many veterans who asked her to decriminalize marijuana as they would much rather use marijuana than opiates.
“Our state legislature hasn’t honored the requests from veterans or frankly, people who suffer from chronic pain,” Oliver said, “We know that marijuana can be used as an effective treatment.”