Judge throws out Texas AG's suit challenging voter-backed cannabis decriminalization

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton sought to overturn decriminalization ordinances approved by voters in five Texas cities.

click to enlarge So far, voters in five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize weed. - UnSplash / Marty O’Neill
UnSplash / Marty O’Neill
So far, voters in five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize weed.
Chalk up a loss for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's anti-cannabis crusade.

A Travis County district court judge last week dismissed a suit the Republican AG filed to strike down voter-approved decriminalization ordinances adopted in five Texas cities, the Austin-American Statesman reports.

Judge Jan Soifer last Wednesday ruled there was no legal justification to try the case, according to the Statesman. What's more, she pitched out the suit "with prejudice," signifying Paxton can't refile it. However, his office still could seek an appeal.

Paxton sued in January to overturn decriminalization measures approved by voters in Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen and San Marcos. A similar measure failed with San Antonio voters, largely because it tied marijuana reform to a larger bundle of criminal justice reforms, some unpopular with voters.

In his suit, Paxton argued municipal ordinances can't override the state's pot laws. In a colorfully worded statement, the AG claimed to be striking a blow against "cities run by pro-crime extremists" who wanted to "promote the use of illicit drugs."

Decriminalization defenders said the local rules simply allow municipalities to set their own law enforcement agendas — something protected under state law.

In a statement responding to the case's dismissal, the city of Austin said its decriminalization ordinance allows police to focus on more pressing community concerns.

"The ordinance challenged by the now-dismissed lawsuit reflects the will of the voters, who sent a clear message that law enforcement should prioritize resources to focus on critical public safety issues, rather than low-level marijuana possession," the city told the Statesman.

Amy Kamp, a spokeswoman for Ground Game Texas, the organization behind the ballot initiatives, told the Statesman that Paxton is likely to appeal. Even so, the progressive group is moving ahead to collect the 35,000 signatures required to let Dallas voters decide whether to adopt cannabis reform.

"For now, we're thrilled that the policy remains in force, and will remain in force throughout any potential appellate process," Kamp said. "In the meantime, we'll be continuing to support the other cities who are defending suits by Paxton and building our movement across Texas."

Texas is one of just 19 states where police can still jail people for possessing small amounts of weed, according to a recent Marijuana Policy Project analysis.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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