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Petition to decriminalize having small amounts of marijuana starts today in Lubbock

Marco Verch

A handful of Texas cities have decriminalized having small amounts of marijuana. Lubbock could be next.

Local activist Adam Hernandez joined Sarah Self-Walbrick in the studio to tell us more about Freedom Act Lubbock, a citizen-led petition initiative that starts today. An official kick-off rally is Aug. 26 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Wagner Park in Tech Terrace.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Explain what the Freedom Act is. What would this ordinance do?

Adam Hernandez: Freedom Act Lubbock would decriminalize the possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana here in the City of Lubbock. We're pretty much only directing this toward personal use marijuana possession.

SSW: What’s the process for this effort? It starts with a petition, which y’all are launching today. 

AH: Our city charter allows citizens to put issues before the city council. The process to do that is you have to collect the required amount of signatures. In our case, it's a little over 4,800. But we're shooting over that amount, because some of those may be thrown out. If you do collect the required amount of signatures, the city council is required to take up that issue and discuss and vote on it. They'll have two readings of that. Should they vote those down, then the initiating committee, which is us, would have the option for the city secretary to put it on a ballot for the people of Lubbock to vote on. And that could potentially happen in May of 2024, should the council vote this down.

SSW: Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in Texas. So how would this ordinance work with state and federal laws?

AH: So in Texas, once the city reaches a certain size, you can make your own rules, essentially. There are certain things you can't do. There was recently a law that kind of targeted this in the state legislature, but it doesn't pertain to penal codes, which is what we're trying to update. As such, we are still allowed to make some of our own rules here in the city, even if they aren't necessarily the same as what the state has.

SSW: How did y'all get started with this effort? What sparked the idea?

AH: There are a couple of reasons why Lubbock Compact would choose to pick this up. Number one, we deal with disparities in our city. When it comes to marijuana arrests here in the city, they disproportionately impact young people 18 to 34, but also communities of color. If you look at Lubbock’s Black residents, for instance, they represent 8% of our population, but they're 30% of the arrests, and the vast majority are Hispanic 46.9%. So there are disparities in policing in terms of communities of color, but also in specific areas of the city. We have a heat map that shows that most of these arrests occur along the I-27 corridor or in the northeast quadrant of the city. This is where a lot of those communities of color live. That's one of the reasons.

The second reason is, we also try to advocate for good public policy. That often means fiscal policy. We don't think that it makes a lot of sense to spend the amount of resources that we're spending. We're having about 600 plus arrests of this nature, where that's all that's going on is personal use of marijuana. That’s 600 times that an officer has to engage and write reports and go through this whole process. That's also 600 prosecutions that are overloaded DA has to deal with. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. We could be using those resources for other more serious things. We have huge sex trafficking issues, domestic violence, violent crimes and so we feel like those resources could probably be better used in those areas.

SSW: What are some other effects this ordinance could have on Lubbock?

AH: The effect that we're looking to achieve here is to keep normal folks out of jail for low-level marijuana possession. Because you do have some adults that use it recreationally, as many adults use alcohol recreationally, which is perfectly legal. You do have some of that going on. But you also have a lot of folks that are using this for various medical reasons. That can range from epilepsy to PTSD, depression, chronic pain, there are so many different things that folks may use this for.

I know that the perception a lot of times is of the lazy stoner that doesn't do anything, doesn't have a job, but the reality is quite different when you really look at it. You have a lot of professional people, a lot of elderly people who may be dealing with lots of chronic pain or different issues. It's just not who you would think. It's just a lot of regular folks who are trying to live their lives and take care of their families. Not only do you interrupt their lives when you arrest them for this, but you also interrupt the lives of their family and possibly their career. As we said, this is disproportionately impacting our young people here, 18 to 34 years, who represent 40% of the population. This is during a time when they're trying to figure this themselves out, and this can seriously derail plans if they're a Tech student.

SSW: Austin, Denton and San Marcos are a few cities that have voted for similar ordinances. Those passed because of citizens' votes. Could this effort boost voter turnout?

AH: It absolutely has been shown to boost voter turnout in all of the cities where this has occurred. And not only does it boost voter turnout, but we've seen widespread bipartisan support for this. So even in some of these cities, like Harker Heights and Killeen, for instance, that lean heavily conservative similar to Lubbock, those folks still voted it in 60 to 70%. So you are seeing a massive increase in voter turnout. But you're also seeing participation on this issue in the affirmative from a widespread audience.

SSW: What's your message to people who are against this kind of reform?

AH: I would ask them to look into it a little more deeply. I know that a lot of folks have preconceived notions based on a whole host of things. It could be what they've always heard their whole life, it could just be that they've always dismissed it because it was illegal and so why think about it. I really do encourage folks to really see the information that's out there.

Unfortunately, it is a schedule one drug here in the States, which means that the law sees it as not having any medicinal value, which obviously is not the case. But that also keeps a lot of people from studying it here in the States. A lot of these studies are going to come from countries that have had this legalized for a very long time, Israel, for instance, and others. The information is out there. There have been studies done, we definitely need more studies, but there have been many, many studies on various aspects of this issue, whether you want to look at how does it affect a state, for instance, when they legalized or decriminalized? What sort of issues do you see after that? Or what issues don't you see after that? All of that information is really out there, if folks would just look into it.

There are many things that people are using this for. It's probably somebody that you know, or love, could be or are using this. I just really encourage folks to kind of think outside of themselves as well and think about the wider community and how this helps them.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.