A coalition of advocacy groups announced on Tuesday that they will be launching a signature drive to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, prevent the enforcement of abortion-related “crimes” and ban no-knock warrants on the San Antonio ballot next spring.
The San Antonio Justice Charter Initiative is being spearheaded by the group Act 4 SA, with support from Ground Game Texas, SA Stands and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC).
It’s one of the latest iterations of the local cannabis reform movement in the Lone Star State, where voters will be deciding on decriminalization at the ballot next month in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos. Ground Game also led those more narrowly tailored initiatives.
The text of the measure says that “it is the policy of the City of San Antonio to use its available resources and authority to accomplish three goals of paramount importance: first, to reduce the City’s contribution to mass incarceration; second, to mitigate racially discriminatory law enforcement practices; and third, to save scarce public resources for greater public needs.”
BIG NEWS! New campaign in San Antonio w/@Act4SATX for a Justice Charter!
We’re collecting 35K signatures to be the 1st Texas city to
1) decriminalize weed
2) decriminalize abortion!
3) adopt cite & release
4) ban chokeholds &
5) ban no-knock warrants!https://t.co/OYtnhHdyJA
— GroundGameTX (@GroundGameTX) October 18, 2022
For the cannabis section of the initiative, it stipulates that “San Antonio police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses,” with limited exceptions.
It also says that police can’t “consider the odor of marijuana or hemp to constitute probable cause for any search or seizure.”
“No City funds or personnel shall be used to request, conduct, or obtain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) testing of any cannabis-related substance to determine whether the substance meets the legal definition of marijuana under state law,” it continues.
It would also decriminalize possession of synthetic cannabinoids by requiring police to issue a ticket or citation, rather than arrest, for possessing up to four ounces of the substance.
Additionally, the measure would prevent law enforcement from criminalizing abortion, executing no-knock warrants and using chokeholds against suspects.
Under the proposal, the city would further be required to appoint a “Justice Director” to fulfill three policy priorities: reduce mass incarceration, mitigate racial disparities in law enforcement practices and “save scarce public resources for greater public needs.”
Activists will need to collect at least 20,000 valid signatures from registered voters by early January. The groups said they plan to submit a minimum of 35,000 signatures to ensure placement for the May 2023 ballot.
“The San Antonio Justice Charter is a groundbreaking suite of extremely popular reforms that would improve public safety, reduce unnecessary arrests, promote transparency and accountability in law enforcement, and end the criminalization of fundamental rights like abortion,” Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, said in a press release.
“We look forward to San Antonio becoming a model for improving public safety and protecting basic rights through direct democracy,” Oliver said.
“Across the community we have heard the same thing from community members: They want to reduce overcrowding in the jails, stop dangerous policing practices that harm community and officers alike, prioritize city resources for greater public safety needs, and implement programs that can be rehabilitative and address crime prevention—just like cite and release does by lowering the re-offender rate,” ACT 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas said.
San Antonio Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez welcomed the news of the citizen initiative, urging residents to sign the petition.
Yes! Yes! YES!
If you are a registered voter in San Antonio, let’s get you signed on to the petition 👌🏽https://t.co/4Kd6LkXty2
— Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (@theloserteacher) October 18, 2022
ACT 4 SA says that it’s confident that the multifaceted initiative will pass, citing internal polling that shows support for each of the measure’s planks. The initiative’s overall support stands at 67 percent, according to San Antonio Reports.
Meanwhile, Texas voters in five cities will have the chance to enact local cannabis decriminalization next month following successful signature drives headed by Ground Game Texas, which also put the reform on Austin’s May ballot this year. Voters strongly approved that measure.
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.
On the same day that the Austin initiative was certified, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession.
A poll released last year found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use. A separate survey released in June found that cannabis legalization is more popular in Texas than the state’s top elected officials and President Joe Biden.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said last month that he will work to enact criminal justice reform in the 2023 session, and he again expressed support for lowering penalties for marijuana possession.
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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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.