Austin voters over the weekend overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition A, a city ordinance to eliminate enforcement of low-level marijuana offenses and ban the use of no-knock warrants by Austin police.
Eighty-six percent of Austinies voted in favor of Prop A.
It is the most significant marijuana reform in the state’s capital since 2020, when Austin City Council voted to prohibit city funds from being used on resource lab testing for low-level marijuana possession.
The change was resisted by former Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, but after several months of foot-dragging, Manley eventually implemented the new enforcement protocols. The result was Austin police stopping most low-level marijuana arrests.
Technically and officially, marijuana possession was not decriminalized, but “deprioritized” when it came to enforcement. This was partially facilitated by the state’s legalization of hemp in 2019, which made it difficult and financially burdensome for local governments to prosecute marijuana-related offenses because hemp was identical to cannabis in smell and appearance.
Ground Game Texas, the organizers behind the ballot measure, aim to codify and make official the decriminalization with Saturday’s vote.
“The Austin Freedom Act is proof that when we put popular, progressive policies in front of voters, we can bring thousands of new voters into the fold and mobilize the electorate behind important change,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas in a prepared statement.
“We’re thankful for the support of voters in Austin, who will no longer be criminalized for marijuana use or subjected to dangerous no-knock police raids,” Oliver said. “We look forward to the success of similar ballot campaigns across Texas that will help register and mobilize thousands of voters behind popular progressive policies like workers, wages, and weed.”
Similar ballot initiatives are being planned in other cities, like Harker Heights, Denton, San Marcos and Killeen.
The new ordinance will put Austin far ahead of other Texas cities when it comes marijuana reform, at least on paper.
Most other major Texas cities officially do summon and release diversion programs, though in recent years police and district attorneys have relaxed enforcement all together. Since 2017, new charges for marijuana possession have declined by 64 percent statewide according to the Texas Office of Court Administration.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott, who made weak attempts in 2019 to remind prosecutors and local governments around the state that weed was still illegal, have yet to publicly speak about Austin’s vote to decriminalize pot.
The latest polling on the issue by the Texas Politics Project shows 60 percent of Texans support legalizing possession of marijuana or legalizing small amounts.
The second part of Prop A, the ban of no-knock warrant, is modeled after similar bans across the country that were organized after the police murder of Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In 2021, state Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas introduced a bill to ban no-knock warrants in Texas, but the bill died after leaving committee.
Around the same time, Killeen City Council voted to ban no-knock warrants, two years after another botched raid resulted in an injured officer and the murder of a 41-year-old resident.
Austin’s move to follow Killeen has already gotten some pushback from Kenneth Casaday, president of Austin’s police union.
In a series of Saturday tweets, Casaday said the power for search warrants was derived by state law, and said he was sure Austin police would continue to use no-knock warrants despite the vote.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org