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Texas AG Paxton Sues 5 Cities to Block Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinances

Despite Paxton’s lawsuit, polls show that two-thirds of Texans support legalizing recreational marijuana.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021, in Dallas, Texas.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is suing five cities in the state to block recently passed ordinances that decriminalize the possession of cannabis.

Voters in Austin, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Denton approved similar ballot measures in the 2022 election cycle that end arrests for low-level marijuana-based crimes and eliminate citations for possession of less than four ounces of cannabis. The measures were coordinated by a progressive organization in the state called Ground Game Texas.

The measures were overwhelmingly supported by voters in these jurisdictions, ranging from a high of 85 percent support in Austin to 70 percent support in Killeen.

This week, however, Paxton announced he would seek to block those popular ordinances, claiming that they violated Texas state law and the state constitution.

The cities involved in the lawsuit are “home-rule” jurisdictions, which means they have the full power of self-government. (“General law” cities can only pass ordinances that the state government explicitly says they’re allowed to enact.) There are exceptions to this standard, however, which Paxton alleges the jurisdictions have violated.

The attorney general used extreme language to attack the cities for allowing their residents to decide for themselves whether to decriminalize cannabis laws in their jurisdictions.

“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 press release, further describing the actions by the cities as “anarchy.”

Critics decried Paxton’s efforts, noting that marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts are popular throughout the state, and that laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana target marginalized communities at much higher rates.

“Prosecution of low level marijuana offenses disproportionately effects minorities,” said Sara Spector, a political commentator and criminal defense attorney from Texas.

“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 a press release.

“Paxton’s slander of so-called ‘pro-crime’ organizations that support marijuana reform policies is profoundly ironic coming from a person who is under criminal indictment for securities fraud, under federal investigation for other financial crimes, and has admitted to violating the civil rights of whistleblowers within his own office,” Oliver added.

Polling from the state shows that the vast majority of Texans would approve of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. A Hobby School of Public Affairs poll from early 2023, for example, found that two-thirds of residents (67 percent) would back legalizing marijuana recreationally for anyone over the age of 21.

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