San Marcos effectively decriminalized small amounts of pot, but Prop A advocates want a formal policy
A proposition to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in San Marcos passed in November with more than 82% of votes, but the local police department says it won't adopt a formal policy.
Prop A stops the city’s police officers from arresting or issuing citations to people for possessing 4 ounces or less of marijuana. Officers can make exceptions if the suspect is part of a high-priority, felony-level narcotics case or part of a violent felony investigation.
Following the ordinance, SMPD is no longer arresting or citing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana — but that's not specifically outlined in city law, as Prop A supporters had hoped it would be.
After seeking legal advice, Police Chief Stan Standridge said the San Marcos Police Department would not adopt a policy on the proposition because it is still illegal to use or possess marijuana under Texas law. Instead, Standridge sent a three-page memo to all officers with information on what was passed.
"I know that the activists, the advocates, want a policy," he said. "However, I have sworn to uphold the laws of this state. So I am not going to violate a law of this state to comply with this ordinance."
Advocates with Mano Amiga and Ground Game Texas collected signatures to get the proposition on the ballot. Mano Amiga Communications Director Sam Benavides said the lack of a formal policy raises questions about enforcement.
“It was really disappointing and shocking that our city would disrespect the will of San Marcos voters in that way,” she said. “Because an internal memorandum is not what 80% of San Marcos voters approved.”
The ballot measure came on the heels of a 2019 state law that legalized hemp. Distinguishing between hemp, which is legal, and marijuana, which is not, requires lab testing, which takes time and resources. Prosecutors in Texas began dropping misdemeanor marijuana cases and several cities effectively decriminalized small amounts of marijuana or passed ballot measures like the one in San Marcos.
Mike Siegel, political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, said he's proud of Prop A's campaign and how it helped rally community members to the polls. He said the movement was a great success as it brought out a large number of college students who wouldn't ordinarily participate in a local election.
“That being said, we’re disappointed to hear the statement of the police chief that they believe they cannot fully enforce this ordinance," Siegel said, "because they can.”
Austin residents passed a similar ordinance in 2020. It was eventually turned into a policy and put into the city's code without any legal challenges. Currently, Austin officers are not allowed to issue citations for most Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession offenses — that’s anything less than 4 ounces.
Siegel said he understands there are sometimes grey areas in the law, but Austin is an example of what is possible.