2021 was a groundbreaking year for cannabis across America, and that momentum is carrying itself into the new year. Republicans have shown a surprising level of support in the past year, while advocates are applying pressure for meaningful change in their community. Even the most conservative states have changed their tune when it comes to legalizing cannabis, even if it’s solely for medicinal purposes.
Change at a federal level isn’t moving fast enough. Still, there’s rapid progress on state and municipal levels. This year, residents in Austin, TX, will likely see significant change as the Austin City Council formally approved an activist-led proposal to do away with no-knock raids and decriminalize cannabis on Jan. 18th, per Marijuana Moment.
Ground Game Texas’s activist group introduced a petition to City Council for the Austin ballot after gathering more than enough signatures during a hard-fought campaign. The motion passed in a vote of 7-3. GGT brought upwards of 33,000 signatures supporting these reform laws — 10,000 more signatures needed to qualify for the election, which takes place on May 7th.
The Austin City Council could’ve quickly enacted new legislation into municipal law, bypassing any electoral process. However, lawmakers instead are putting the issue in front of voters. City officials have certified the petitions for the ballot earlier this month.
The political director of Ground Game Texas, Mike Siegel, expressed his gratitude to the organizers and volunteers who’ve fought hard for “progressive change in their community.” Meanwhile, the executive director of the organization, Julie Oliver, vowed to continue fighting for progressive social change across the state, as well as help “bringing new voters into the fold.” GGT found more than 10,000 residents in the city of Austin that required an update on their voter registration information, which the organization is committed to helping voters accomplish.
The initiative led by Ground Game Texas would put significant changes in Austin’s policing practices. If enacted, police would not be able to fine or arrest people for misdemeanor cannabis possession charges, nor would they be able to use residue or paraphernalia as grounds for a possession charge.
A significant number of Texans support both decriminalizing cannabis and presenting reform on no-knock warrants. According to a recent poll, 87% of voters in Texas backed cannabis legalization for recreational purposes, and roughly 75% of voters also supported banning no-knock warrants.
Ultimately, voters will have to speak up when it’s time, especially when it comes to banning no-knock warrants. Lawmakers pushed back against putting the legislation in motion on its own after a closed-door session. The topic turned contentious, leading certain members of the City Council to move to add the issue to the ballot for Austin voters to decide. Many believed that enacting such a law requires a transparent dialogue between voters and lawmakers.
It seems that this could cause a rippling effect across Texas. Coincidentally, the same day that Ground Game Texas submitted signatures to place the two new reform initiatives on the ballot, Gov. Greg Abbott seemingly supported cannabis decriminalization. He explained that minor marijuana infractions shouldn’t “stockpile jails,” suggesting that the step is to reduce cannabis-related penalties. He mistook the classification of cannabis in Texas as a Class C misdemeanor when it’s actually a class B. However, he remained adamant that laws surrounding low-level cannabis possession charges do not warrant significant punishment.
“Marijuana is now a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas and so one thing that 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, and small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” he explained during a press conference on Jan. 10th.
Dallas already moved forward with policy change surrounding cannabis, including reducing arrests, citations, and summons. Ground Game Texas has already launched campaigns in Killeen and Harker Heights to add marijuana decriminalization to their local ballots. In San Marcos, advocates outside of Ground Game Texas started to work towards cannabis reform laws in September and continue to go strong.
Suppose Texas is on board with cannabis legalization. In that case, this could be the strongest signal that widespread reform is underway, and dispensaries can operate lawfully with clear jars with wooden lids filled with the greenest of buds.