Austin City Council approved a citizen-led initiative to put a cannabis decriminalization proposal on the ballot for local elections in May.
Ground Game Texas is behind the proposal, which also includes a provision to prohibit the police from conducting no-knock raids.
Having collected the required number of verified voter signatures, Austin City Council could have adopted the proposal as an ordinance, which would have been Ground Game Texas’ preference, but city lawmakers voted 7-3 to put the question to voters instead.
City officials certified the 33,000 signatures for the measure on the same day that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he is against locking people up for low-level cannabis possession.
“The City Council’s vote to schedule an election on the Austin Freedom Act is a testament to the incredible work of our organizers and volunteers who are fighting for progressive change in their community,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas. “Thanks to their tireless efforts, voters will have the opportunity in May to end the criminalization of marijuana possession and the dangerous practice of no-knock police raids.”
Austin has already adopted measures intended to reduce cannabis-related arrests, as has Dallas, but this latest proposal would go much further.
If the measure is accepted by Austin voters, there will be no more arrests or citations for misdemeanor cannabis possession within the city’s jurisdiction. Additionally, police would no longer be allowed to issue citations for marijuana residue or paraphernalia.
The proposal would also ban the use of city funds for the purpose of testing marijuana to determine whether it is cannabis or hemp, which is legal in Texas. This makes the job of law enforcement more complicated as they often have to send suspected marijuana products to a laboratory before proceeding with a cannabis possession charge.
“In less than a year, Ground Game Texas has demonstrated the power of grassroots organizing to affect progressive change,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas. “We will continue working with local groups and volunteers to launch efforts like these across Texas, bringing new voters into the fold and mobilizing them behind progressive policies for their community.”
The group initially wanted to put the proposal to voters for the November 2021 ballot, but missed the deadline for handing in signatures so turned their focus to the upcoming election on May 7. Spurred by its success in Austin, Ground Game Texas has now launched cannabis decriminalization campaigns in Killeen and Harker Heights.
Unlike many states in the US, there is no procedure in place in Texas to allow for citizen-led, statewide ballot initiatives. This makes it difficult for citizens to push for reform of Texas’s cannabis laws in the face of continued lawmaker opposition.
This opposition comes despite a recent survey by the University of Texas and Texas Southern University showing a strong majority of Texans (67 percent), including a majority of Republicans (51 percent), are in favor of adult-use cannabis legalization in the state.
Marijuana reform proposals have had limited success in the Texas legislature recently. Legislation to expand the state’s medical marijuana program was signed into law by Abbott in June, but a marijuana decriminalization bill that had been approved in the House stalled in the Senate.