Voters in five Texas cities approved local cannabis decriminalization ballot measures, continuing a trend of local-level marijuana reforms in the state where statewide citizen-led initiatives are not permitted.
The question of cannabis decriminalization was put to voters in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos and a majority in each came out in favor. They now join Austin in seeking to remove criminal penalties for simple cannabis possession.
Under current Texas cannabis law, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
Voters in San Antonio, the second largest city in Texas, could also soon get a chance to vote on the reform after a citizen-led group announced plans to launch a petition drive to place such a measure on the ballot in May 2023.
“Texans have shown that they want major cannabis law reforms in Texas via polling, legislative engagement, and now at the local ballot box!” said Texas NORML Executive Director Jax James in a press release. “This will have a positive impact on the almost half a million people living in these cities.”
Ground Game Texas led the campaigns in each of the five cities but they were helped by local community organizations in pushing for an end to cannabis criminalization. Ultimately, the marijuana decriminalization measures passed comfortably in each city, with as many as 81 percent of voters in San Marcos approving the reform.
Local marijuana reform efforts in Texas are going from strength to strength but statewide progress remains elusive.
The only time the Texas legislature approved a marijuana decriminalization was in 2019 when the reform was passed by the House. It failed to advance in the Senate, however, and no similarly comprehensive efforts have succeeded in the past few sessions.
“While these local advancements are important in mitigating harm on citizens and reprioritizing law enforcement time, they result in a patchwork of differing marijuana enforcement policies based on location,” James added in NORML’s press release. “It is time for lawmakers to take steps to enact statewide reform when they convene in January 2023.”
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) recently said he doesn’t think low-level cannabis possession should result in jail time, before incorrectly suggesting that this policy had already been adopted by Texas lawmakers.
Abbot’s Democratic rival in the gubernatorial race, former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has long called for an end to cannabis criminalization in Texas but he lost out to the incumbent governor.
In 2018, the Texas GOP adopted a policy plank advocating for marijuana decriminalization but this was later rescinded. More recently, Texas Republicans adopted a platform that opposes marijuana legalization but backs federal cannabis descheduling.
According to statewide polling, most voters in Texas are in favor of comprehensive cannabis legalization, with 60 percent agreeing it should be legal “for any use.”