Deep in the heart of Texas, a fight is brewing. Lubbock voters may get the chance to decide whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana this spring. However, there are complications. Although the cannabis advocacy group Lubbock Compact spent months collecting thousands of signatures from Lubbock voters, nearly double what they needed to put the issue in front of the city council, there are still many hurdles and fierce opposition to overcome.
Is there a chance that the deeply red community of Lubbock, Texas, will approve cannabis reform this spring? Even if it does, will local officials acquiesce to the people’s will?
Lubbock Cannabis Initiative
One local cannabis advocacy group spent months gaining 10,000 signatures from Lubbock voters to put a cannabis decriminalization initiative in front of the city council. The group only needed 4,800 signatures to get an audience with city leaders. Unfortunately, the initiative hit its first stumbling block when the city council unanimously voted to reject the proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana within Lubbock city limits.
Lubbock Mayor Tray Payne says that the proposal contradicts state law, so that decriminalizing cannabis possession would be “void and unenforceable.” However, cannabis supports are not ready to admit defeat just yet. In fact, rejection by the city council may have been the best path forward for cannabis reform in Lubbock. After the resounding response from city leaders, the initiative can head directly to Lubbock voters, something the communications chair for Lubbock Compact says was the goal all along.
Lubbock Compact Chair Adam Hernandez says they needed the council to vote the measure down so that it could be put on the spring ballot and that it is fair to let the citizens of Lubbock decide the fate of cannabis reform.
What’s next for the advocacy group? Hernandez says the group plans to focus on registering community members to vote and encouraging people to go to the polls this May. The proposal aims to end arrests and citations for adults in Lubbock who possess misdemeanor amounts of cannabis within city limits. The measure would also prohibit law enforcement from issuing citations for charges related to the possession of cannabis paraphernalia.
Cannabis Reform in Texas
Lubbock is not the first city in Texas to make its move toward cannabis reform. With little movement on the cannabis reform front at the state level, activists set their sights on changing local ordinances. Recently, voters in Killeen, Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, and San Marcos approved ballot measures decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and, in most cases, banning arrests and citations for possession of less than four ounces. The state’s capital city of Austin also voted to decriminalize marijuana possession in a May 2022 election. The Austin ordinance prohibits citations for most Class A and B marijuana possession offenses.
Unfortunately for voters, the will of the people does not always prevail. Local leaders in all those cities except for Austin declined to implement the voter-approved rules. Ball County, which includes the city of Killeen, is taking things one step further and is suing to block the measure from taking effect.
If the previous efforts by local Texas communities to decriminalize marijuana are any indication, even if Lubbock’s reform measure does pass in May, local leaders will take steps to avoid enacting the ordinance, frustrating advocates and voters alike. Those in power continue to subvert the wishes of Texas voters, making marijuana reform a hot topic in the state.
What Comes Next in Texas?
Although there are a growing number of more liberal communities in Texas, the state remains deeply red, making it challenging to engage in meaningful cannabis reform dialogue. Texas Governor Greg Abbott continues to shun efforts to decriminalize marijuana or discuss legalization efforts. Although many Texas voters support cannabis reform, Gov. Abbott (R) continues to reject the idea that Texas should move with much of the rest of the nation in decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing recreational adult marijuana use.
Recently, the governor dismissed calls from President Joe Biden to pardon low-level marijuana offenders. The governor then seemed to do an about-face, announcing that he doesn’t think individuals should be jailed over low-level marijuana offenses. However, he could not correctly cite how current Texas laws classify drug violations. Notably, there has also been no significant movement in the Texas legislature to decriminalize marijuana across the state. In 2023, Governor Abbott called four special legislative sessions, saying legislators have more work to complete critical government work. None of that work seems to include cannabis reform.
One House bill reducing the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana got bipartisan support in the House before dying in the Senate during the regular legislative session. Additionally, efforts at the state level to expand the state’s medical marijuana program also passed the House but failed in the Senate. Cannabis reform has not been an issue during Texas’s special legislative sessions. Although voters are committed to reform, state lawmakers seem less enthusiastic about working on a cannabis compromise.
Cannabis advocates continue the fight. However, with municipalities refusing to enact voter-approved cannabis reform measures, it seems unlikely there can be significant movement on that front until the state legislature passes an overreaching cannabis reform plan. That also seems unlikely at this stage in Texas politics despite most Texans supporting the legalization of marijuana.
Texas remains one of 26 states without significant cannabis reform laws on the books. It also boasts one of the most restrictive medicinal marijuana programs in the nation. Can Lubbock voters buck the trend and convince city leaders to go along with decriminalizing marijuana? May could be a significant month for voters and Lubbock city officials.
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