Officials in a few Texas cities are trying to get rid of or weaken local marijuana decriminalization ordinances that were passed by a large majority of voters this month. But activists aren’t giving up without a fight. On November 8, decriminalization ballot measures passed with strong majorities in five cities.
However, city councils and officials in at least three of those cities are being criticized by supporters for trying to stop the reforms from going into effect. For example, the city council in Harker Heights voted last week to get rid of the law completely.
The Ground Game Texas, which led the campaign for the Marijuana decriminalization ordinances, says it plans to collect signatures for another local referendum that would be put to Harker Heights voters at the next election and would effectively undo the repeal.
In Denton, on the other hand, local leaders haven’t tried to get rid of the reform measure that voters there passed, but they have challenged key parts of it, saying that the city isn’t allowed to tell the police to change their policies the way the measure says they should.
But the mayor and city manager have said that minor cannabis crimes will still not be a high priority for law enforcement. The Killeen City Council decided to put a hold on implementing the decriminalization ordinance that voters had passed.
They said that there were legal issues that needed to be worked out before they could give their approval. One council member, Jose Segarra, said that he had a problem with the part of the reform measure that said police couldn’t search someone just because they smelled like marijuana.
He said that the local government could change the ordinance to get rid of that part. Two other Texas cities, Elgin and San Marcos, also passed decriminalization measures this month. So far, there have been no legislative or legal objections to these measures.
But supporters don’t plan to give up any of their wins. Since the Harker Heights City Council has already voted to get rid of the ordinance, there is a lot of pressure on supporters to take action, which is looking like a second referendum for the May 2023 ballot.
“Everything is in the city charter,” Louie Minor, who is running for Bell County commissioner and worked on the campaigns to decriminalize marijuana in Harker Heights and Killeen, told The Killeen Daily Journal. “If there was a vote, people would have to go out and get signatures.
We don’t have very much time, though. The people would vote on whether or not to get rid of the ordinance that got rid of Proposition A. When local officials in Denton said earlier this month that they weren’t sure if they were ready to fully implement the voter-approved measure to decriminalize cannabis, Ground Game Texas responded by putting out a legal memo.
“Denton’s voters have made their choice. Mike Siegel, one of the group’s founders, said, “By a huge margin, they passed an initiative to use scarce public safety funds for important needs in Denton rather than wasting them on low-level marijuana offenses.”
“City employees don’t have the power to ignore election results and go against what voters want. We hope and expect that public servants will honor the will of the people they work for and make sure that Proposition B is put into effect right away. Since then, the Denton City Council has voted 6-0 to accept the election results.
Even though the reforms may be new to the cities where lawmakers are worried, they have been tried before in the Lone Star state. In May, for example, Austin voters voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure to stop criminalizing marijuana.
It doesn’t look like the city has had to deal with any major legal battles because of this small policy change. Also, San Antonio, which is the second most populous city in Texas, might be able to decriminalize marijuana locally in May 2023.
Last month, activists said they would start collecting signatures for a ballot measure. In the last few years, there has been a lot of action on marijuana issues at the local level in Texas because of “home rule” laws. However, statewide reform has mostly stalled in the conservative legislature.
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In 2019, the House passed a bill to make cannabis less illegal, but the Senate did not move it forward. Since then, lawmakers haven’t been able to pass any more broad cannabis laws in recent sessions. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t think people should go to jail for having small amounts of marijuana. But the governor was wrong when he said that state lawmakers had already passed the policy.
A poll from last year showed that a large majority of Texans, including most Republicans, support making marijuana legal for adults. Another survey found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making marijuana legal “for any use,” and about nine out of ten voters think it should be legalized for some reason.
Also, a June poll showed that more people in Texas support legalizing marijuana than support the state’s top elected officials or President Joe Biden. In September, the Republican Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, said that he would work to pass criminal justice reform during the 2023 session.
He also said again that he was in favor of lowering the penalties for marijuana possession. This year, more than 1,500 bills about cannabis, psychedelics, and drug policy are being discussed in state legislatures and in Congress. People who give at least $25 per month on Patreon can use our interactive maps, charts, and hearing schedule so they don’t miss anything.
Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who used to be a U.S. representative and was the Democratic candidate for governor of Texas this year, has been pushing for a long time for marijuana to be legalized. He made this a key part of his campaign platform. But in the end, Abbott beat him in the race.
During last year’s session of the legislature, some changes to drug policy were made, but not always at the speed that supporters had hoped for. A bill was passed to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, and another was passed to require a study of how certain psychedelics might help military veterans.
In 2018, the Texas Republican Party backed a platform plank that said marijuana possession should not be a crime, but this was later changed. In March, the state Supreme Court heard testimony in a case about the state’s ban on making smokable hemp products. This was the latest step in a long-running legal battle over the policy,
which was first proposed in 2020 and challenged the same year. To get on the May 2023 ballot in San Antonio, activists will need at least 20,000 valid signatures from registered voters by early January. The groups said that they will send in at least 35,000 signatures.