Texas' Largest City Residents are Working to Decriminalize Marijuana by Petition

A few weeks ago, Giselle Ramirez left work in the afternoon and went straight to the north side of town. She begged people in the grocery store for more than three hours in 97-degree heat to help her make pot less illegal.

In order to help the cause, Ramirez is helping for Lubbock Compact, a local advocacy group. The group chose that particular grocery store because they say most marijuana arrests happen in north and east Lubbock, where most of the people are Black or Hispanic.

“I’m doing this to help people in my community avoid jail time for pot,” Ramirez said. There are more important problems in our city than mota. No one should go to jail for it.

The effort to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use in Lubbock is the latest in a long line of fights for cannabis supporters in the Lone Star State. Unlike neighboring states, Texas has long been against legalizing the drug. Through the petition process, Lubbock would be the biggest city in Texas to decriminalize the drug if the change is made.

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Without making it legal for everyone in Texas to use for fun, some people have tried to at least make it less illegal. Voters in Denton, Killeen, Elgin, San Marcos, and Harker Heights all passed election measures that make it illegal to arrest or ticket people for carrying less than four ounces of marijuana. The voters passed rules, but the city councils have refused to put them into place. Killeen is in Bell County, which has sued to stop the change from going into force.

People who live in Lubbock know how to use ballot proposals to change city rules. In 2021, most people in Lubbock agreed with a “sanctuary city” policy that tried to ban abortions inside the city’s borders. It’s not clear if those people would support the policy that would stop criminalizing marijuana.

Cannabis has caused a lot of trouble in Texas. It has been legalized for medical purposes, but lawmakers have stopped short of allowing people to use it for fun or lowering the fines for having it.

People have tried to change the rules in the state. There were some bills that were passed by the House. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, pushed for House Bill 218, which would lower the penalty for having one ounce of marijuana and let some charges be erased. The bill failed in the Senate, though.

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Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has been a strong backer of lowering the penalties for marijuana possession, saying that the state’s jails are already too full. “Prison and jail are places for dangerous criminals who may harm others,” Abbott said at a campaign event last year. “Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with.”

A new poll from the University of Texas and the Texas Politics Project shows that Republican voters are divided on this topic. Only 33% say the laws should be “less strict,” while 32% say they should be “more strict.” In the same poll, 51% of Texans said that the state’s marijuana rules should not be so strict. A margin of error of 2.8% was used for the study in February.

Lubbock Compact started the Freedom Act Lubbock petition in August in West Texas. They have until October 18 to get 4,800 signatures from registered voters, with a goal of 7,500 in case some signatures aren’t valid. With a little less than three weeks left, the group is almost done. They have about 6,000 signatures.

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