‘Unenforceable:’ Lubbock City Council sends decision on decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses to voters

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 10:58 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock voters will likely decide in May whether to decriminalize some marijuana offenses inside city limits. City council members voted against the proposal unanimously Tuesday morning.

After a public hearing, council members stated they believe the proposal would contradict state law, making it unenforceable.

This was the referendum the organization Freedom Act Lubbock gathered signatures for over the past few months. The group submitted a petition with more than 10,400 signatures. More than 5,100 signatures were verified by the city secretary, enough to send it to the council.

After the organization’s hard work, Adam Hernandez, communications chair for Lubbock Compact, expressed his frustration that the public hearing was held on a weekday at 9 a.m., making it harder for some people to show up.

Despite several public comments in favor of the proposal, council rejected it with a 0-7 vote.

Mayor Tray Payne says any changes to laws regarding the possession of marijuana must be addressed by the Texas legislature.

“My conclusion is that the proposed ordinance actually violates the Texas constitution, it is in direct conflict with state law, and therefore it is void and unenforceable,” he said.

The proposal would decriminalize the possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana for adults. Its proponents say it would free up space in the overcrowded jail and free up officer time to fight other crimes.

“We are not asking you to decriminalize pounds of marijuana, but to simply utilize police resources to other major crimes such as the property crime rates here in the city,” one proponent said.

As a Home Rule city, Hernandez says Lubbock has the authority to enforce the ordinance.

“The heart of our ordinance is pretty simple, we just don’t think people should go to jail for personal use of marijuana here in Lubbock,” he said.

Several other council members backed the mayor though, including Mark McBrayer, citing his oath to the city and the Texas constitution.

“We are established by the state, and we have to enforce the laws of the state. I don’t buy the distinction between legalization and decriminalization. I don’t really think there’s a distinction between those two arguments,” he said.

Freedom Act Lubbock also claims city data shows disparities in marijuana enforcement, negatively impacting black, Latino and younger community members. Council member Christy Martinez-Garcia says she didn’t see those numbers reflected.

“When you went door to door, hearing all this stuff about Hispanics, Hispanics, Blacks, Blacks, Hispanics, Blacks, a lot of misinformation that was shared with them,” she said.

Two citizens also spoke against the ordinance, citing public safety on the roads and marijuana use leading to the use of other drugs.

Coalition members say they expected pushback and would rather the decision go to voters, anyways.

“We think this issue is of a magnitude and substance that it probably should just go forward to a vote,” Joshua Shankles, a Lubbock Compact board member said.

Because the council voted down the ordinance, the initiative process allows the group to request it go to a ballot, which will likely be in May.