Lubbock Voters Reject Local Marijuana Decriminalization Measure As Texas AG Sues Other Cities That Passed The Reform

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Voters in Lubbock, Texas have rejected a local measure to decriminalize marijuana.

The city was the the first community to consider the reform on the ballot following Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s (R) legal actions against five other Texas cities with voter-approved decriminalization laws.

Lubbock residents voted on a 65–35 margin in Saturday’s election to defeat the decriminalization ballot initiative, which went to voters after local lawmakers declined last year to enact the reform legislatively.

The vote comes as not only the attorney general but also Gov. Greg Abbott (R) lash out against the municipal 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.

He filed lawsuits against the cities of Austin, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Denton. The litigation is still pending, but advocates in Lubbock moved ahead with their local reform effort nonetheless.

Adam Hernandez, the Lubbock decriminalization campaign director who also unsuccessfully ran to become the city’s next mayor, coming in third place on Saturday, said that the cannabis campaign “worked hard on it” and “had a lot of volunteers” but that they “just weren’t able to get the voter turnout high enough.”

He told The Texas Tribune that before they can consider any further reform attempts, “we’re going to have to focus on voter education and voter turnout.”

Hernandez told Marijuana Moment last month that he felt the attorney general’s lawsuits have actually “energized people” to vote in favor of the reform proposal.

“I don’t know that it’s been working the way that they would like it to work,” he said. “They’ve been getting a lot of pushback from the community—people calling out a lot of the misinformation that’s been going around.”

Hernandez added advocates were “not really concerned” about the threat of a lawsuit coming down on Lubbock if the cannabis measure passed, and he pointed out that there’s also a clause in the measure that said, in the event that decriminalization is voided by the state, it would still become the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.

Ultimately, however, Lubbock voters decided not to enact the reform.

Last December, lawmakers in Lubbock officially approved a resolution to put the local decriminalization initiative on the ballot after declining to enact on the reform legislatively.

Meanwhile, activists with Ground Game Texas and Texas Cannabis Collective have been collecting signatures to place local marijuana decriminalization initiatives on the November ballot in two more cities: Dallas and Lockhart.

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.

Harker Heights wasn’t targeted in the lawsuit, which is likely related to the city’s refusal to implement the voter-approved policy change—a move that prompted Ground Game to file suit against officials last December.

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 May—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.

Advocates have faced other issues in certain jurisdictions where voters approved decriminalization.

The Killeen City Council temporarily paused implementation of its local voter-approved ordinance, arguing that there were legal concerns that lawmakers needed to sort through before giving it their approval, which they eventually did. But last April, Bell County filed a lawsuit challenging the policy.

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.

Nearly three in four Texas voters (72 percent) support decriminalizing marijuana, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in 2022. 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.”

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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