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Texas House Candidate Leads Push To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Yet Another Local Ballot



A Texas Democratic candidate for the state House is collecting signatures to put a local marijuana decriminalization initiative on the local ballot in Bastrop this November.

Desiree Venable, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Stan Gerdes (R), said that after just two weeks she’s already collected around 200 of the approximately 400 required signatures to place the cannabis reform measure before voters.

“We’re going to shoot for 600 to be safe,” the candidate told KXAN.

“Decriminalization is a very popular and bipartisan issue that will help our police force prioritize more important criminal investigations, help our community members who are socially and economically negatively impacted by marijuana related charges, and increase voter turnout in the November general election,” she said in a Facebook post on Thursday. “Let’s push through legislation that actually reflects the will of the people.”

Voters in multiple Texas cities have enacted local decriminalization policies, but the movement has had ups and downs.

For example, in a win for advocates, a Texas district court judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from the Republican state attorney general who sought to overturn a local voter-approved marijuana decriminalization initiative in Austin.

That means the cannabis reform measure approved by voters in 2022 remains effective, pending any potential appeal from Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to a higher court.

Paxton’s office filed lawsuits against the cities of Austin, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Denton over the decriminalization policies that voters passed at the ballot over recent years.

The court action comes about two weeks after activists in Lockhart turned in what they say are more than enough signatures to qualify a cannabis decriminalization initiative for the local ballot this November. The city of Dallas is also in play for cannabis reform this election cycle.

In a setback from advocates, however, voters in Lubbock rejected a separate cannabis reform initiative last month.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has separately lashed out against the municipal cannabis reform efforts.

“Local communities such as towns, cities and counties, they don’t have the authority to override state law,” the governor said late last month. “If they want to see a different law passed, they need to work with their legislators. Let’s legislate to work to make sure that the state, as a state, will pass some of the law.”

He said it would lead to “chaos” and create an “unworkable system” for voters in individual cities to be “picking and choosing” the laws they want abide by under state statute.

Abbott has previously said that he doesn’t believe people should be in jail over marijuana possession—although he mistakenly suggested at the time that Texas had already enacted a decriminalization policy to that end.

Paxton, the state attorney general, used more inflammatory rhetoric when his office announced in January that it was suing five cities over local laws decriminalizing marijuana that voters approved, vowing to overrule the “anarchy” of “pro-crime extremists” who advocated for the reform.

In general, the measures that have already been enacted in Austin, Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos 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.

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 year—though officials have still refused to move forward with implementing the will of voters.

In November, Ground Game 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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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.

Three in five Texans, including a plurality of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana, according to a survey released this month.

Another poll released in 2022 found that nearly three in four Texas voters (72 percent) support decriminalizing marijuana. 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.”

People’s Use Of Alcohol Or Opioids Causes Greater Secondhand Harms Than Marijuana Consumption Does, Study Finds

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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