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Activist group Ground Game Texas just submitted nearly 35,000 signatures in support of the Austin Freedom Act of 2021, a ballot measure that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Austin and ban cops from conducting “no knock” warrants.
If approved, this new measure would prevent Austin cops from arresting anyone for misdemeanor marijuana possession or from even issuing citations for pot or paraphernalia possession. The initiative would also ban “no knock” warrants that allow cops to break into people's homes without identifying themselves in advance. Many states and cities are moving to ban this popular police tactic after Kentucky cops murdered Breonna Taylor during a failed “no knock” drug raid last year.
"Thanks to the tireless efforts of on-the-ground organizers from Ground Game Texas and partner organizations, Austin residents will soon have the ability to make lasting change to our antiquated and racist criminal justice laws," said Mike Siegel, Political Director of Ground Game Texas, in a statement. "With successful campaigns like these, Ground Game Texas will continue to empower and excite communities around progressive change -- and deliver for the marginalized communities that too often get left behind."
Now that the petition is submitted, the City Clerk will verify that at least 20,000 of the submitted signatures are valid. Once this process is complete, the City Council will have the choice of either adopting the law immediately or allowing the city's voters to decide for themselves. If the council chooses the latter route, the proposal will appear on the ballot for the city's next “uniform election” on May 7th, 2022.
Austin already passed a more modest decriminalization measure last year that prevents the city from spending resources on lab tests that distinguish illegal marijuana from legal hemp. The confusion between these two kinds of cannabis has recently thrown a serious wrench into Texas cops' attempts to enforce their beloved prohibition laws. Hemp and hemp-derived products have been legal in Texas since 2019, but it is impossible to tell the difference between legal and illegal cannabis by sight or smell alone.
Texas crime labs are also unable to distinguish pot from hemp, and this confusion has forced local prosecutors to throw out thousands of minor weed possession cases. Misdemeanor weed arrests in Texas dropped by 30 percent from 2019 to 2018, but even so, cops are still arresting tens of thousands of people for pot every year, sometimes leading to fatal consequences. The Austin Freedom Act would take the city's previous decriminalization ordinance even further by specifically preventing cops from arresting people for minor pot crimes.
The measure seems likely to succeed, since recent polls show that 75 percent of Texans support banning “no knock warrants” and 87 percent believe that cannabis should be legal in some form. But despite this strong majority support, Texas lawmakers have crushed multiple state-level cannabis legalization and decriminalization bills and even banned hemp-derived delta-8-THC products. And since Texas does not allow voters to amend state laws via ballot measures, it is up to individual cities like Austin to implement reform on a local level.
“Austinites continue to work towards reducing the decades of negative impacts prohibition has caused by any means available,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During the interim, local actions like this create pressure for more action during the next legislative session. With a majority of Texans supporting the creation of a regulated cannabis market, it is important to continue pushing this conversation forward.”