Texas legislators made progress this session on some incremental marijuana policy changes. But activists were hoping for more, and a newly formed progressive coalition that’s being led by two former congressional candidates is aiming to take cannabis and other issues directly to voters by putting reform measures on local ballots across the state.
Ground Game Texas, a nonprofit spearheaded by former Democratic candidates Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel, isn’t exclusively focused on marijuana. But their mantra is “workers, wages and weed”—indicating that the group views drug policy reform as a key part of the its mission.
By engaging voters on issues like marijuana reform that are popular among young people and Democrats, it stands to reason that the organization could also influence turnout in upcoming elections, potentially shifting the GOP-skewed balance of power in the conservative state legislature.
There is no statewide citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like decriminalization or legalization on the Texas ballot. But at the local level, there are limited cases where activists can leverage home rule laws that allow for policy changes.
Meanwhile, major metropolitan areas like Austin and Dallas have already independently enacted law enforcement policy changes that reduce enforcement for marijuana-related offenses—by issuing citations and summons, for example. That’s the type of limited reform that could theoretically be accomplished via citizen initiative under certain local statutes.
A strong majority of Texans back even broader reform, according to recent polling. Sixty percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use,” signaling that local initiatives for more modest proposals like decriminalization would likely pass easily.
“We’re not waiting for politicians to make change,” Ground Game Texas said. “We will work to put popular policies on the ballot and engage voters on the issues.”
“Progressive ideas—a $15 minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana—are popular ideas,” it said. “We need to lead with the progressive policies that cross political boundaries.”
It’s unclear which cities might be targeted for cannabis reform initiatives at this point, but the group told The Texas Tribune that it has had conversations about pursuing some of the reforms it wants to work on in 10 cities, including Mission, Bedford and Elgin.
Cannabis reform advocates said putting the issue on the ballot could have effects that reach farther than just the cities that enact new policies.
“Texans are eager for marijuana law reform,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Using this issue to rally voters is smart and could greatly impact the make up our our state’s next legislature.”
Ground Game Texas is being launched shortly after this year’s legislative session ended, which saw numerous drug policy proposals advance, with bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans having been sent to the governor’s desk. But broader reforms such as marijuana decriminalization did not get enacted.
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Three progressive Texan political figures—former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, former state Rep. Wendy Davis and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke—have endorsed Ground Game Texas and said in a statement that it “is going to meet Texans where they are at to listen to them about the issues that matter most,” the Tribune reported.
Sawyer Hackett, executive director of Castro’s separate People First Future group, said the new organization will engage in “year-round door knocking and put progressive policies—like marijuana legalization and $15 min wage—on the ballot.”
Today @GroundGameTX was launched in Texas to do year-round door knocking and put progressive policies—like marijuana legalization and $15 min wage—on the ballot.
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) June 9, 2021
With respect to the recently ended legislative session, advocates remain disappointed that they were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.
Texas isn’t the only state in which organizers are trying to put marijuana on local ballots. Ohio activists recently qualified a measure to decriminalize cannabis to appear on a local 2021 ballot—the first of dozens of reform proposals that could go before voters this year as signature gathering efforts continue across the state.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.