Voters in another Texas city will have the chance to decide on a local marijuana decriminalization initiative on the ballot after the Lubbock City Council declined to enact the reform legislatively on Tuesday.
In a 0-7 vote, local lawmakers unanimously rejected the measure, which was put on the agenda after activists submitted enough signatures to force consideration of the decriminalization proposal. It will now go before voters in May 2024.
The committee behind the initiative first filed paperwork for the Freedom Act Lubbock ordinance with the city secretary in August. After activists turned in more than 10,000 signatures, officials confirmed that the campaign submitted enough petitions to move ahead in the process earlier this month.
Local legislators in Lubbock, which is Texas’s tenth largest city by population, had 30 days to hold a hearing and make a decision as to whether they would enact decriminalization legislatively. Because they declined to take that opportunity, as Everything Lubbock first reported, the proposal will go on the ballot for voters to decide next spring.
“The heart of our ordinance is pretty simple,” Adam Hernandez, communications chair for Lubbock Compact, said at Tuesday’s City Council hearing. “We just don’t think people should go to jail for personal use of marijuana in Lubbock.”
Under the proposal, local police would be prohibited from making arrests or citations to adults in possession of up to four ounces of cannabis, unless there’s a binding state or federal court order against the policy. If that does happen, the initiative says the “City’s policy shall be to make enforcement of Class A and Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession its lowest enforcement priority.”
The text of the measure says that it’s meant to “promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of Lubbock.” Enacting the reform is in the interest of “carefully allocating scarce city resources, reducing the risk of discriminatory enforcement practices, and focusing city resources on the highest priority public safety concerns.”
Lubbock would be the second largest city by population to enact the reform. It would join cities including Austin, Delton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos that were largely led by Ground Game Texas.
That organization recently released a report that looked at the impacts of those similar marijuana reform efforts. It found that the measures will keep hundreds of people out of jail, even as they have led to blowback from law enforcement in some cities. The initiatives have also driven voter turnout by being on the ballot, the report said.
A more recent decriminalization measure that went before voters in San Antonio in May was overwhelmingly defeated, but that proposal also included provisions to prevent enforcement of abortion restrictions.
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Advocates have faced issues in certain jurisdictions where voters approved decriminalization.
Shortly after voters in Harker Heights approved their measure, the city council overturned the ordinance over concerns that it conflicted with state law. But activists collected signatures for another initiative and successfully repealed the repeal in May.
The Killeen City Council temporarily paused implementation of its local voter-approved ordinance, arguing that there were legal concerns that lawmakers needed to sort through before giving it their approval, which they eventually did. But in April, Bell County filed a lawsuit challenging the policy.
At the state-level this session, the Texas House of Representatives passed a series of bills to decriminalize marijuana, facilitate expungements and allow chronic pain patients to access medical cannabis as an opioid alternative. But they ultimately stalled out in the Senate, which has been a theme for cannabis reform measures in the conservative legislature over several sessions.
The House passed similar cannabis decriminalization proposals during the past two legislative sessions, in 2021 and 2019.
Separately, a Texas Democratic senator brought the issue of marijuana legalization to the Senate floor earlier in May, seeking to attach to an unrelated resolution an amendment that would’ve allowed Texans to vote on ending prohibition at the ballot box. But the symbolic proposal was ultimately shut down. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) agreed to another member’s point of order, deeming the cannabis amendment not germane to the broader legislation.
Nearly three in four Texas voters (72 percent) support decriminalizing marijuana, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll last year. More than half (55 percent), meanwhile, said they’re in favor of broader legalization. Seventeen percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all.
In March, the same institution similarly showed that a majority of Texas voters feel that the state’s marijuana laws should be “less strict.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.