Texas Activists Launch Signature Drive For Local Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Measures In Dallas And Lockhart

Texas activists are officially collecting signatures to place local marijuana decriminalization initiatives on the November ballot in two more cities: Dallas and Lockhart.

The groups Ground Game Texas and Texas Cannabis Collective are spearheading the reform efforts, aiming to build on a spate of local decriminalization victories in cities across the Lone Star State.

Signature gathering kicked off over the weekend, with advocates circulating petitions and welcoming volunteers to help put the issue before voters.

“Dallas, it’s time for our voices to be heard!” Ground Game said. “Let’s pave the way for a policy that’s not just rational, but necessary.”

The Dallas measure would prevent police from making arrests or issuing citations for Class A or B misdemeanor cannabis possession offenses, unless it’s part of a high priority felony  investigation for narcotics or violent crime.

Further, the measure says “Dallas police shall not consider the odor of marijuana or hemp to constitute probable cause for any search or seizure.”

The city manager and chief of police would be required to prepare quarterly reports on the implementation of the policy change, with information about any marijuana possession arrests or citations that would be submitted to the Dallas City Council.

The Lockhart measure contains much of the same language, including the overall decriminalization policy and cannabis odor rule for law enforcement. It would additionally prevent the city from using local resources to order testing of cannabis products to determine whether they meet the definition of marijuana or hemp as part of a criminal investigation.

Dallas is the third largest city in Texas by population, while Lockhart is a relatively small jurisdiction in the San Antonio region.

Meanwhile, voters in Lubbock will get the opportunity to decide on a local decriminalization measure in May after lawmakers approved a resolution to place it on the ballot after declining to enact on the reform legislatively.

Other cities that have already passed cannabis decriminalization initiatives include AustinDelton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos—efforts that were largely led by Ground Game.

In November, that organization released a report that looked at the impacts of the marijuana reform laws. 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.

Another cannabis decriminalization measure that went before voters in San Antonio last May was overwhelmingly defeated, but that proposal also included unrelated provisions to prevent enforcement of abortion restrictions.

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 last 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 last April, Bell County filed a lawsuit challenging the policy.

At the state-level last year, 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 last 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 in 2022. More than half (55 percent), meanwhile, said they’re in favor of broader legalization. Seventeen percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all.

Last March, the same institution similarly showed that a majority of Texas voters feel that the state’s marijuana laws should be “less strict.”

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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