Five Texas Cities May Decriminalize Marijuana In Workaround To State Ban
A worker trims cannabis at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Five Texas cities may join the growing list of those adopting workarounds to the Lone Star State’s ban on marijuana. It’s the latest development in a growing trend to decriminalize the drug.

Voters in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos are all deciding on November ballot propositions to legalize marijuana. Austin, the state’s capital, already approved a measure in May decriminalizing marijuana by prohibiting citations or arrests for misdemeanor possession, as well as banning no-knock warrants.

The propositions considered by the five cities bear the same language, and similar titles: “[Insert City Here] Freedom Act of 2022.” That’s because the propositions were the coordinated effort of an Austin-based progressive nonprofit, Ground Game Texas. In addition to legalizing marijuana, Ground Game Texas advocates for a $15 minimum wage and expansion of Medicaid. Ground Game Texas was also behind Austin’s marijuana decriminalization and no-knock ban, called the “Austin Freedom Act of 2021.”

Under the cookie cutter proposition language, each city would prohibit citations and arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, unless those citations or arrests for possession involved the investigation of a felony-level narcotics case or violent felony. Police may also not use the smell of marijuana as probable cause for a search or seizure, and they may not use city funds or personnel to conduct THC concentration testing.

On the map, these five cities form a southwest trail starting in Denton and ending in San Marcos. If all five cities decriminalize marijuana, they will join the cities of Cedar Park, Dallas, El Paso, and the counties of Bexar, Harris, Hays, Nueces, Travis, and Williamson, which allow for citations instead of arrests for misdemeanor possession.

In addition to coordinating marijuana decriminalization efforts, Ground Game Texas is advocating for a “San Antonio Justice Charter” to not only decriminalize marijuana, but abortion. The charter would also implement a slew of California-esque progressive policies, such as hiring a social justice director with authorities similar to a mayor, ban no-knock warrants and police chokeholds, and citation-only punishments for class C misdemeanors, drug possession, theft of property or service less than $750, driving with an invalid license, contraband possession while imprisoned, graffiti with damages less than $2,500, and criminal mischief with damages under $750. They need 20,000 verified signatures by January to make the May municipal ballot.

Ground Game Texas is also advocating for a $15 minimum wage for the city of Edinburg, as well as a climate change and climate justice policy for the city of El Paso.

The mass marijuana decriminalization efforts are coming to a head as more studies are now being released on the potential connection between marijuana usage and mental illness.

Some of Texas’ Republican state leaders support this decriminalization push. In January, Governor Greg Abbott signaled a softened stance on marijuana decriminalization, according to remarks documented by the Texas Tribune during a campaign stop.

“One thing that I believe in, and I believe the state legislature believes in, and that is prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others,” said Abbott. “Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with.”

In a July editorial, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller claimed that marijuana was medically beneficial, and that bans on the drug were racist, classist, authoritarian, and anti-American.

“In a free society, government should only make something illegal for a powerful reason or set of facts,” wrote Miller. “As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable.”

Abbott and Miller are just several of many Republicans walking away from party disapproval of marijuana and joining a decriminalization push that resonates deeply throughout the Democratic Party all the way to the White House. Democrats at the forefront of voter minds ahead of the November election like Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and Senate candidate John Fetterman support decriminalization of marijuana, but view that issue as the tip of the iceberg. Fetterman has consistently advocated for decriminalizing hard drugs as well.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon of those convicted of simple marijuana possession. As The Heritage Foundation and other experts warned, a vast majority of those criminal convictions were the result of plea deals. Meaning, those benefiting from Biden’s pardon likely committed more heinous crimes than marijuana possession. Paul Larkin, Heritage Foundation senior legal research fellow, told The Daily Wire that these plea deals occur nearly all of the time.

“95% of the time, federal prosecutors engage in plea bargaining,” stated Larkin. “Is it possible or likely people are going to benefit from this who don’t deserve it because they actually were accused of a more serious crime? Damn right there is.”

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