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Texas Activists Say They Have Enough Signatures To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Another Local Ballot

Activists in Denton, Texas say they’re confident that they’ve collected enough signatures to place a marijuana decriminalization initiative on the local ballot.

The group Decriminalize Denton said that it will continue collecting additional petitions until May 3 while it also works to verify the more than 2,500 signatures that have already been gathered. But as of last week, organizers said that it appears that they’ve already netted enough to put the measure before voters in November.

The campaign plans to submit the signatures to the city in the first week of May. They need 1,745 valid signatures from registered voters for ballot placement.

Meanwhile, as Denton activists pursue the midterm election in November, the campaign Ground Game Texas successfully put cannabis decriminalization on the Austin ballot for next month. Early voting for that local measure started on Monday.

The Denton petition says that police “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses, except in the limited circumstances.” Those limited circumstances include investigations into violent felony cases.

Police also couldn’t issue citations or make arrests for class C misdemeanor offenses for drug residue or drug paraphernalia in lieu of a marijuana possession arrest.

The proposal would also make it so city funds could not be expended to test for THC concentration in cannabis products to determine whether it meets the state’s legal definition of legal hemp or illegal marijuana. Law enforcement in Texas has been especially thrown following hemp legalization.

Additionally, the initiative would prohibit police from using the odor of cannabis alone as  “probable cause for any search or seizure,” with limited exceptions.

The city would be required to work with the local police department, as well as “other relevant stakeholders,”  to educate them about the policy change and inform updated training protocols.

For what it’s worth, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in January that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession. However, he also incorrectly suggested that lawmakers have already adopted the policy statewide.

While Austin and other major 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, these ballot initiatives would take the reform further.

Ground Game Texas is also actively working to put marijuana decriminalization on local ballots in Killeen and Harker Heights, and activists in San Marcos began a similar campaign in September.

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.

A bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and another to require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans were enacted.

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 House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018.

A Texas poll that was released over the summer found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use.”

Separately, the state Supreme Court last month heard testimony in a case concerning the state’s ban on manufacturing smokable hemp products—the latest development in a drawn-out legal battle on the policy first proposed and challenged in 2020.

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