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Paxton sues Austin, four other Texas cities, over marijuana possession policies

A lawn sign showing support for Proposition A, which decriminalized low-level marijuana possession and banned no-knock warrants.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A lawn sign showing support for Proposition A, which decriminalized low-level marijuana possession and banned no-knock warrants.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Austin, San Marcos and three other cities that have adopted policies that he says violate state marijuana laws.

Paxton alleges the five cities — which also include Killeen, Denton and Elgin — have rules that instruct police not to enforce Texas' drug laws.

He argued Texas Local Government Code forbids cities from adopting policies in which a city is not fully enforcing drug laws. In addition, he said, the Texas Constitution notes it is unlawful for cities to adopt ordinances that conflict with state law.

“I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities,” Paxton said in a statement. “This unconstitutional action by municipalities demonstrates why Texas must have a law to ‘follow the law.’ It’s quite simple: the legislature passes every law after a full debate on the issues, and we don’t allow cities the ability to create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce.”

In May 2022, Austin voters approved a proposition to sanction the possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana and ban the use of no-knock warrants by police.

About 11% of people registered to vote in Travis County participated in the election, which is common when a vote is not held in November.

San Marcos, Elgin, Killeen and Denton later joined the ranks to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. Similar efforts are now underway in Dallas and have been led by voter engagement nonprofit Ground Game Texas.

Austin police already weren't arresting people for low-level possession. Prosecutors began dropping misdemeanor marijuana cases after a state law in 2019 legalized hemp. After some back and forth in 2020, Austin police agreed to stop citing people for the offense.

Congressman Greg Casar, who wrote the resolution to stop pursuing low-level marijuana cases, said the policies promote social justice and that local resources should "go to keeping people safe, not chasing people down for low level pot offenses."

The City of Austin did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said it was aware of the lawsuit.

“Ken Paxton’s lawsuits represent an anti-democratic assault on the constitutional authority of Texas Home Rule cities to set local law enforcement priorities," Julie Oliver, executive director for Ground Game Texas, said. "In each of the cities sued, a supermajority of voters adopted a policy to deprioritize marijuana enforcement in order to reduce racially-biased law enforcement outcomes and save scarce public resources for higher priority public safety needs."

Paxton has asked the district court to repeal city's ordinances and make them enforce state law.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Luz Moreno-Lozano