Texas cannabis decriminalization victories in midterms bode well for San Antonio petition drive

San Antonio activists are collecting signatures for a petition that would let local voters decide whether to decriminalize pot, among other city charter changes.

click to enlarge Voters in five Texas cities voted to decriminalize small amounts of week during the midterms. - UnSplash / Avery Meeker
UnSplash / Avery Meeker
Voters in five Texas cities voted to decriminalize small amounts of week during the midterms.
With Texas' gubernatorial race consuming so much energy, it might have been easy to miss that five Texas cities voted on Tuesday to approve decriminalizing low-level pot possession.

Ground Game Texas — the progressive organizing group behind Austin's recent decriminalization vote — worked with local activists to put similar initiatives on the ballot in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos. Voters in all five cities approved.

That's encouraging for the organizers of a San Antonio petition drive who are also working with Ground Game Texas to collect the 20,000 signatures needed to let local voters decide whether to amend the city charter to decriminalize weed.

The Alamo City petition campaign, called the San Antonio Justice Charter, also would decriminalize abortion and permanently ban police from using no-knock warrants and police chokeholds.

"I think those votes bode well for San Antonio," said Ananda Tomas, executive director of police accountability group Act 4 SA, one of the organizations spearheading the drive. "I think San Antonio voters are ready to decriminalize and have been ready to decriminalize for some time now."

The San Antonio coalition, which now includes roughly 15 groups, wants to collect its signatures in time to put the proposed charter change on the ballot for the May 2023 general election.

Bexar County already has a cite and release policy with regard to low-level marijuana possession, but Tomas said the charter change would make that permanent, preventing a new district attorney from reversing course.

Similarly, it would ensure the ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants implemented by SAPD Chief William McManus couldn't be stuck down after a change in department leadership.

After a push collecting signatures from voters at local polling places, Tomas said the coalition is  just shy of half the required signers. Some of the most enthusiastic response volunteers got were at polling places in conservative neighborhoods, she added.

"We're on track right now," she said. "We're right where we wanted to be at this time."

In an emailed statement, Ground Game Texas said it plans to continue working with local organizers to push reforms in other cities around the Lone Star State.

"From day one, Ground Game Texas has said that progressive change doesn't come from the top down, it comes from the ground up," said Executive Director Julie Oliver said. "Ground Game Texas will continue to use direct democracy to pass popular policies, bring more voters into the fold, and mobilize them behind progressive change."

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said the flurry of local decriminalization votes should be a signal to Texas' Republican leadership that its resistance to marijuana reform is putting it on the wrong side of voters.

"Over time, Texas conservatives are going to conclude that resisting recreational marijuana is not a good issue for them," he said.

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