Leaders in Dallas, Texas Pursue Cannabis Decriminalization

The city of Dallas, Texas will soon discuss whether or not to add a measure on the November ballot that would decriminalize small amounts of cannabis.

Recently in a news release, Dallas Councilmember Chad West announced that the Dallas Freedom Act will be proposed on June 26. “Voters in our city and across the country want to decriminalize marijuana,” said West. “Our already burdened police should focus their attention on serious crime, not arresting people with small amounts of marijuana. Bringing this to voters through a City Council-proposed Charter amendment instead of a petition will save the city time and resources.”

The proposal was accelerated through a petition which collected more than 50,000 signatures through the help of Ground Game Texas. If passed into law, it would prevent police from giving tickets or arresting people for possessing less than four ounces of cannabis through Class A or Class B misdemeanors.  “Voters in our city and across the country want to decriminalize marijuana,” said West. “Our already burdened police should focus their attention on serious crime, not arresting people with small amounts of marijuana.”

Ground Game Texas has assisted numerous other Texas cities in passing decriminalization, such as Austin, Denton, Killeen, and San Marcos. However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently sued some of those cities (specifically Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos) for passing decriminalization bills at the end of January. “I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities,” Paxton said. “This unconstitutional action by municipalities demonstrates why Texas must have a law to ‘follow the law.’ It’s quite simple: the legislature passes every law after a full debate on the issues, and we don’t allow cities the ability to create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce.”

Former Ground Game Texas executive director, Julie Oliver, accused Paxton of fighting against the will of the people. “Ken Paxton’s lawsuits represent an anti-democratic assault on the constitutional authority of Texas Home Rule cities to set local law enforcement priorities,” said Oliver at the time. “In each of the cities sued, a supermajority of voters adopted a policy to deprioritize marijuana enforcement in order to reduce racially biased law enforcement outcomes and save scarce public resources for higher priority public safety needs.”

The Dallas Observer asked West how he thinks Paxton would react if Dallas decriminalized cannabis. “I would hope the attorney general would support and respect the strong will of Dallas residents on this issue. However, based on past actions, I am not optimistic,” West said.

Alongside West, councilmembers Adam Bazaldua, Jaime Resendez, and Zarin Gracey are also in support of decriminalization in Dallas. Bazaldua said in a recent press statement that it’s essential to give voters a chance to pass the bill. “For the past four years I have advocated for our council to implement this kind of initiative,” said Bazaldua. “Our jails are overfilled with predominantly Brown and Black males serving sentences for a substance that is making others millions of dollars in more than 30 states across the country. It’s past time we take action against this injustice.”

Bazaldua initially proposed decriminalization in 2021, which led Dallas law enforcement to stop arresting people if they were in possession of less than two ounces of cannabis, however, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) has continued to make arrests, according to Resendez. “Despite the positive steps taken by the city and DPD in recent years, marijuana-related arrests continue, and racial disparities persist,” Resendez said. “Although marijuana use is comparable across racial lines, Black and Latino individuals are disproportionately arrested and punished. Decriminalization is the best way to address this disparity.”

Gracey also added that decriminalizing is mainly about righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs. “Decriminalizing marijuana is not just about changing laws; it’s about rectifying decades of injustice and ensuring that our legal system is fair and equitable for all,” Gracey said.

Oliver was replaced as Ground Game Texas executive director by Catina Voellinger in April, although no reason was presented by the organization. “We’ve built a very strong and mighty team that’s greater than the sum of its parts, right?” said Voellinger after she took the position. “So the main message is that Ground Game is a force, and we’re not going anywhere. None of our programs have ceased. We’re not going to back out on any of the things we’ve committed to. And we’re excited about the future and growing this movement.” 

Recently there have been two ongoing lawsuits against the city of Killeen, which remain unaffected by the recent change in executive director position at Ground Game Texas. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with Julie and I’ll continue to work with her,” said Bell County Commissioner Louie Minor. “I don’t know what her plans are, but I know that she’s dedicated to bringing change to Bell County and all over the state. The impact of Julie and Ground Game has been statewide; but here in Bell County, they were instrumental in getting a more progressive voice in elected positions and giving residents a chance to vote on issues that they care about.”

The post Leaders in Dallas, Texas Pursue Cannabis Decriminalization first appeared on High Times.


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