Texas decriminalizing cannabis one city at a time despite lawsuit

texas decriminalizing cannabis

Voters in five Texas cities have approved cannabis decriminalization, but the Attorney General is railing against the effort. Currently, low-THC medical cannabis is legalized for nine conditions under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. However, many also want people out of jail for minor possession and personal use. So, between 2020 and 2022, Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos decriminalized minor possession.

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Unfortunately for voters, that desire isn’t shared by their state politicians. At the end of January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the filing of a lawsuit against each city in a press release that used some inflammatory words.

“I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities,” said Attorney General Paxton. “This unconstitutional action by municipalities demonstrates why Texas must have a law to ‘follow the law.’ It’s quite simple: the legislature passes every law after a full debate on the issues, and we don’t allow cities the ability to create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce.”

Cannabis decriminalization in Texas

The wave of decriminalization first hit Texas in 2020 when the Austin city council passed a resolution effectively halting arrest or ticketing for minor possession. In 2022, Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos voters approved measures decriminalizing the plant in various ways.

Proposition A in Elgin halts enforcement against low-level cannabis offenses in city limits. Killeen’s Prop. A decriminalizes possession of four or fewer ounces of cannabis. In the other two cities, the story is more complicated.

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Denton voters approved Proposition B with 70 percent approval in November 2022. However, decriminalization remains unrecognized by law enforcement. In a city council meeting, plant advocates argued that Black and brown people were targeted in minor possession charges. Meanwhile, police expressed that minor cannabis possession charges often lead them to uncover more serious criminal activity. Decriminalization remains unrecognized by law enforcement.

In San Marcos, police ceased enforcement of possession charges for four or fewer ounces of cannabis, but there is still an issue. Supporters of the proposition were set on the city adopting the decriminalization policy into law, but that has yet to occur.

Police Chief Stan Standridge didn’t take this decision lightly, according to KUT News. Since state law dictates police criminalize all cannabis possession, Chief Standridge consulted with lawyers and opted to send a memo to officers detailing the proposition. Advocates argue that a state law is not what 80 percent of San Marcos voters approved of, but it’s the same legs Paxton runs with to sue these cities.

While some cities are engaging cannabis decriminalization, others are in embroiled debate on the topic. Enter: Attorney General Ken Paxton.

AG Paxton v. Cannabis Decriminalization: the lawsuit

Attorney General Paxton has served as Texas attorney general since 2015. He is currently a defendant in a long-running whistleblower trial for securities fraud charges and is under federal investigation for corruption. The career politician is also vehemently against marijuana decriminalization.

Paxton claims that city decriminalization measures violate the Texas Local Government Code and Texas Constitution. The Local Government Code bars any city, county, municipality, etc., from enacting “a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.”

Piggybacking on that, the state’s Constitution declares that adopting ordinances that violate state law is illegal. These are the foundations of the state lawsuit the AG filed against each city. But despite the vitriol, advocates in Lubbock, Tex. continue gathering signatures in the name of weed.

The fight for decriminalization continues

Lubbock Compact believes voter voices should be heard on the issue of cannabis decriminalization. Over the last few months, the group collected over 10,000 signatures to bring the decision to the city council, only to face rejection.

Lubbock Mayor Tray Payne echoed Paxton’s sentiments regarding the violation of state law. However, representatives of the Lubbock Compact are pleased the choice will go to over 200,000 voters in the city rather than seven representatives.

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These local stories tell a larger tale for the Lone Star State: cannabis activism is taking hold in Texas. With five cities adopting and fighting for decriminalization and one on the way, it is clear Texans are ready to talk about weed.

However, based on the response, it might be a long walk until both sides meet in the middle on decriminalization. Until then, cannabis advocates seem steadfast in their efforts, so the conversation will surely continue. Now, all are left waiting for the lawsuit to go through the formal litigation process, letting the courts weigh in on the matter.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.