Austin, Texas voters will have a chance decide on a ballot initiative to locally decriminalize marijuana, city officials announced on Monday.
Ground Game Texas, an organization working to advance progressive causes including cannabis reform, said it turned in more than 33,000 signatures for the measure—about 10,000 more than required to qualify for the May 7 election. The city clerk’s office said that, according to its internal review of the validity of the submissions, “the petition is determined to be sufficient.”
The group also told Marijuana Moment on Monday that they will be launching signature campaigns for cannabis decriminalization initiatives in Killeen and Harker Heights this month, and activists in San Marcos began a similar campaign in September. Those three efforts are aimed at putting marijuana reform before voters in November.
While Austin, as well as other Texas cities like Dallas, have already independently enacted law enforcement policy changes aimed at reducing arrests for cannabis-related offenses by issuing citations and summons, the new Austin Freedom Act would take the reform a step further.
The initiative seeks to end arrests and citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession within Texas’s capital city. Also, it says police cannot issue citations for residue or paraphernalia in lieu of a possession charge.
Under the initiative, the execution of no-knock warrants would also be prohibited in the city—a policy that generated significant national attention in 2020 after it led to Kentucky officers entering Breonna Taylor’s apartment and fatally shooting her in a botched drug raid.
“We’re so proud of the tremendous work of our organizers and volunteers who secured more than 30,000 signatures to put progressive change on the ballot in Austin,” Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas, said in a press release. “With the certification of the Austin Freedom Act, voters in Austin will soon have the ability to use their vote to end the criminalization of cannabis in their community and eliminate the dangerous practice of no-knock warrants by Austin police.”
Legislating by initiative is a rare opportunity for direct democracy in Texas.@GroundGameTX has a half dozen more initiatives ready to launch in the days ahead.
We’re engaging new voters with progressive policy. Please support if you can! https://t.co/r2RVluEFXB
— Mike Siegel (@SiegelForTexas) January 10, 2022
The measure would further prohibit the use of city funds to request or test cannabis to determine whether it meets the state’s definition of a lawful product. Hemp is legal in the state, creating complications for law enforcement, as they are now tasked with determining if seized cannabis products are in compliance with state statute.
Game Ground Texas previously attempted to place the initiative on the November 2021 ballot, but they did not meet the signature turn-in deadline and shifted their attention to 2022.
“From day one, Ground Game Texas has said that progressive change starts from the ground up,” Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, said. “In community after community, we are partnering with local groups to put progress on the ballot, bringing new voters into the fold and mobilizing them to get involved. We’re so proud of the success of the Austin Freedom Act and look forward to launching similar efforts across Texas in the year ahead.”
We did it! Thank you to everyone who helped us collect signatures – we couldn't do this work without you. https://t.co/TfFwLkcgu5
— Julie Oliver (@JulieOliverTX) January 10, 2022
While the measure is now set to appear on the May ballot, it’s also possible that the Austin City Council could independently move to adopt the ordinance prior to the election.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 800 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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There is no statewide, citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like decriminalization or legalization on the Texas ballot. But at the local level, there are limited cases where activists can leverage home rule laws that allow for policy changes.
A recent poll found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use.
The survey from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University found that 67 percent of Texas residents back the broad reform. Fifty-one percent of participants who identified as Republican said they back legalization.
In Texas, drug policy reform did advance in the legislature during last year’s session, but not necessarily at the pace that advocates had hoped to see.
Advocates remain disappointed, however, that lawmakers were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.
The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018.
Another Texas poll that was released over the summer found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use.”
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