Five Texas cities vote to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana

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By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities had voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to decriminalize the carrying of small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to be on the ballots by Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights appear for the Midterms cycle.

Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals in the elections.

The campaign saw the strongest support in San Marcos — home of Texas State University — with almost 82% of the vote. Denton, which has multiple university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes supporting the proposal.

In Killeen, known for its proximity to Fort Hood military base, nearly 70% of voters approved the proposal. Elgin, just outside Austin, saw almost 75% of the vote in support of the reform. And at the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights, Bell County, voted for marijuana decriminalization.

“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and free up scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democratic congressional candidate. “We are very satisfied with our results.”

Like the Austin ordinance, the successful proposals enact city ordinances ending low-level enforcement, including subpoenas and arrests for possession of less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and employees to test substances for THC, the chemical in the cannabis plant that gets users high.

The proposals are possible because they are self-governing cities — jurisdictions that can enact ordinances unless specifically prohibited by Texas or federal law.

The state currently treats the substances differently based on their THC content. For example, in 2019 it legalized hemp, which contains less THC than marijuana. Then, in 2021, the Texas House passed a bill reducing penalties for minor marijuana possession, but it died in the Senate.

Last month, President Joe Biden also issued pardons for all federal marijuana possession cases and urged states to do the same. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was reelected Tuesday, didn’t say directly if the state would follow suit, but he did previously shown support for reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped the campaign would increase voter turnout, particularly among young voters.

“We wanted to use workers, wages and grass to attract new voters,” Siegel said.

Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue to work with local groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure before San Antonio voters in May 2023, along with several other proposals, including decriminalizing abortion. And similar efforts are likely to show up in other major cities like Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston in the 2024 election. Seal added.

“We hope that not only can we prove that these issues are popular, but that they have increased voter turnout in the communities up for election,” he said. “And in the days after that election, we’re going to be having a lot of conversations with people about the next cycle.”

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