Petition to decriminalize marijuana in Lubbock gets strong start
A room full of citizens gathered at the T.J. Patterson Branch Library on Thursday for an update on a growing initiative to decriminalize marijuana in Lubbock.
The members of Freedom Act Lubbock started their petition on August 18, and now they have a little less than a month to go to reach the threshold for signatures and get a vote from the Lubbock City Council.
The threshold is a little over 4,800 signatures, and so far they have collected around 3,800.
Adam Hernandez, local activist and Lubbock Compact communications chair, said the goal of the group is to get 7,500 signatures by October 18, as the signatures have to be verified, and some could be thrown out if they aren’t registered voters.
To meet this requirement, Hernandez said he’s seen citizens registering to vote just to sign the petition.
“when we were early enough in the process, we were going ahead and registering those voters, mostly everybody on our team is a voter registrar,” Hernandez said. “In the first couple of weeks, we registered well over 200 voters that were interested in signing this.”
According to Hernandez, further support of registered voters could play a key role in advancing the effort. Hernandez said similar petitions in other cities have been rejected by the vote of city council, but as the initiating committee of the petition, Freedom Act Lubbock will have the option to place this proposal on the ballot.
Citizens in at least six Texas cities have already made efforts to decriminalize marijuana through local ordinances; meeting with approval, lawsuits, and sometimes confusion on the enforcement from officials, in the context of state laws. But Hernandez said the opinion of the people of Texas has so far been bipartisan, and repeatedly in favor.
“It went to the ballot and their citizens, even in the two cities that are heavy conservative-leaning, in all six of the cities, it passed overwhelmingly, 60 to 70% by the citizens,” Hernandez said.
The City of San Marcos had the highest approval from voters with more than 82% in favor.
Here in Lubbock, Hernandez is encouraged by what he’s seen, describing the reception this petition has received as ranging from neutral to positive.
“People who have told us, 'I don't use it, I don't do anything. But I don't think people should be in jail for this',” Hernandez said. “We've had senior citizens, we've had across the spectrum, every socioeconomic status that you can think of, every profession, including some pastors have signed this petition.”
Hernandez said the oldest person to sign the petition so far is former NAACP president and well-known Lubbockite, the 95 year-old Ms. Rose Wilson.
At Thursday’s press conference, Hernandez released data from a report by Lubbock Compact and the progressive state activist group, Ground Game Texas, on marijuana-related crimes in the area.
Their analysis of crime reports from Lubbock Police found 4,035 total marijuana-related arrests since 2018. The report states Lubbock has averaged 731 arrests each year, though the number of arrests year-over-year has decreased by 200 in that five year span.
The report also states the enforcement of current marijuana laws in Lubbock has disproportionately affected younger people and residents of color, with Black citizens making up 29% of arrests, while only representing 8% of the population. Latino citizens, more than 37% of the population, represent 49.1% of these arrests, according to the report.
The decriminalization initiative comes as jail overcrowding has recently become a frequent and expensive issue in Lubbock and across Texas. Strains on the courts with overworked prosecutors has led groups on both sides of the aisle to consider reforms to punishments for nonviolent drug offenders.
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