2021 marked the year of the green rush. More states across the nation have moved forward with legalizing cannabis to some capacity. At the same time, support for legalizations among Americans reached an all-time high. It’s not only the benefits of access or the economic boost but the dire need to protect marginalized communities from unnecessary penalization for something as simple as hitting a bong or rolling a joint.
In Texas, which recently legalized medicinal cannabis and where certain cities enacted laws to reduce marijuana-related crimes, there’s still more work ahead for cannabis reform. An Austin-based advocacy group known as Ground Game Texas urges local lawmakers and politicians to decriminalize cannabis, and, finally, it seems that they’re making some headway. According to ABC-affiliate KVUE, the group gathered thousands of signatures in support of adding cannabis decriminalization and ending no-knock warrants to the 2022 ballot.
Ground Game Texas delivered nearly 35,0000 signatures as part of the “Austin Freedom Act Of 2021” to the Austin City Clerk’s Office. The political director of Ground Game Texas, Mike Siegel, called the initiative an opportunity to allow Austin residents to “make lasting change to our antiquated and racist criminal justice laws.”
“With successful campaigns like these, Ground Game Texas will continue to empower and excite communities around progressive change – and deliver for the marginalized communities that too often get left behind,” Siegel added.
The campaign could amass 15,000 more than the 20,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the November citywide ballot. From here, the City Council will have to choose whether they would directly enact the bill or bring this issue to the ballot for the “uniform election” on May 7th, 2022.
Austin and Dallas have reduced penalties related to cannabis possession in the past year. Cannabis-related offenses are penalized with citations and fines rather than jail time in both cities. However, Ground Game Texas’s initiative must evolve this into complete decriminalization by ending fines and citations for misdemeanor cannabis penalties. Additionally, the measure would help end criminalizing residue and paraphernalia.
Like the rest of the U.S., Texas shares a similar stance regarding legalization. According to a recent poll, per GGTX, nearly 87% of residents support legalizing cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes. However, the measure presented by GGTX might lead to further confusion among both officials and citizens. As Marijuana Moment notes, hemp is legal in the state of Texas, so officials would now have to determine whether cannabis products comply with state regulations. However, the measure will also end up requesting or testing cannabis products to find out if it’s considered a lawful substance.
GGTX has gathered significant support behind a measure that would ban the practice entirely on the topic of no-knock warrants. No-knock warrants, which allow officers to break into an apartment without identifying themselves, gained international attention in 2020 following the death of Breonna Taylor. She was shot and killed by Louisville police. Police shot and killed Taylor during a no-knock warrant on her apartment under the belief that it was a drug den, sparking outrage and calls for police reform during the 2020 BLM protests. GGTX reports that at least 75% of Texans support banning no-knock warrants.
In addition to Austin, GGTX is also preparing to add the decriminalization measure to voting ballots in Killeen, TX, next fall. The move reflects the broad support for cannabis reform in Texas, where even Republican lawmakers are pushing for change. Texas Southern University teamed up with The University Of Houston to conduct a study that found 67% of Texas residents are behind bringing cannabis reform into law. Over half of the participants identified as Republican. Unfortunately, there’s hardly a means of allowing advocates to get issues like cannabis decriminalization or banning no-knock warrants on a state level. However, advocates can bring policy change to voting ballots in very few circumstances. So, it appears that until state laws change, GGTX and other advocacy groups will be pushing for change county-to-county, city-to-city.
The bipartisan support for change in cannabis laws in Texas and nationwide should indicate to Congress that reform in federal law is needed imminently.