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As Austin votes on decriminalizing marijuana, other Texas cities push for similar measures

a closeup of cannabis leaves
H. Zell
Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fact that marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law, residents of Austin will vote in the May 7 election on a proposition that would decriminalize small amounts – less than 4 oz. – of marijuana. Several other Texas cities are considering decriminalization as well.

Cayla Harris, a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle's Austin bureau, told Texas Standard that Austin's Prop A would eliminate low-level marijuana charges in the city. The proposition would also eliminate "no knock" warrants that opponents say have led to police entering the wrong residences when searching for suspects.

Other Texas cities considering decriminalization include Denton, Killeen and San Marcos. Denton residents hope to get a measure on the November ballot.

Marijuana possession remains illegal under state law, but local jurisdictions can choose their own means of enforcement.

"It's different for every city," Harris said. "But this kind of workaround comes through local authority and local budget initiatives, and how cities spend their money and their resources. So it does conflict with state law, but it's not illegal, if that makes sense."

Decriminalization advocates in cities around Texas are connected, Harris says, but the initiatives are primarily being pushed by local groups.

At the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott has not come out against local initiatives to relax marijuana laws, though he has advocated limits to local control in other situations.

"He said at a January news conference that he didn't think people should be jailed for … possessing low amounts of marijuana," Harris said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, however, has opposed relaxation of marijuana laws at the state level, including last year's expansion of a law allowing medical marijuana use by some Texans. As leader of the Texas Senate, Patrick has the ability to kill or wound legislation he opposes.

"It really rests on his shoulders," Harris said.