Texas activists announced on Wednesday that they have collected enough signatures to qualify a marijuana decriminalization initiative for the local November ballot in Killeen.
This marks the latest success for Ground Game Texas, a progressive advocacy group that recently championed a decriminalization measure in Austin that voters overwhelmingly approved at the ballot earlier this month.
For Killeen, Ground Game Texas Political Director Mike Siegel told Marijuana Moment that the group collected more than 2,400 signatures, and 1,400 have been pre-verified.
“We feel confident this will be enough to secure verification of the initiative,” he said.
Killeen isn’t quite as large as the state capital, of course, but the successful signature gathering campaign is another indication of the strong appetite for cannabis reform among voters in the Lone Star state.
“In a quickly growing and thriving community like Killeen, there’s no excuse for the continued over-policing and incarceration of community members for marijuana use,” Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, said in a press release “On the heels of voters approving our similar initiative in Austin last week, we’re proud to give Killeen voters the same opportunity to end enforcement of marijuana offenses—which disproportionally hurts diverse communities like Killeen.”
On the same day that the Austin reform initiative was certified for ballot access earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession. However, he misstated state statute on decriminalization, suggesting that the policy is already in place.
While Austin, as well as other 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, the ordinances that Ground Game Texas and other activists have been pursuing go further.
The Killeen ordinance would make it so police could not issue citations or make arrests for class A and B misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses, with limited exceptions such as if the violation connected to an investigation into a felony-level narcotics case.
Also, the measure says police cannot issue citations for residue or paraphernalia in lieu of a possession charge. And they could not use the odor of cannabis alone as probable cause for a search or seizure.
Meanwhile, a campaign recently announced that it has collected enough signatures to place cannabis decriminalization on the November ballot in Denton.
Ground Game Texas and other advocates are also actively working to put marijuana decriminalization on local ballots in Harker Heights and San Marcos.
There is no statewide, citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like marijuana 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.
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A recent poll found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use. A separate survey released this month found that cannabis legalization is more popular in Texas than the state’s top elected officials and President Joe Biden.
Drug policy reform did advance in the state legislature during last year’s session, but not necessarily at the pace that advocates had hoped to see.
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 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 heard testimony in March 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.