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Confusion from Prop A politics clouds substance use issues in Lubbock

Brad Burt
Texas Tech Public Media

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, pastor Carl Toti addressed churchgoers at Trinity Church on South Loop 289, west of University Avenue.

“Here at Trinity Church, for those of you that may be guests with us today before the sermon we have what's called a worldview segment,” Toti said. “And the reason we do a worldview segment is we believe, as a church, we exist at a spiritual crossroads. Where moral, cultural, social, political issues collide with biblical truth.”

The political issue on the mind of many Lubbockites this year is Proposition A, which would decriminalize possession of less than four ounces of marijuana, removing possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana as grounds for arrest by a Lubbock Police officer.

The group behind organized opposition to Proposition A is Project Destiny Texas. Terisa Clark is the spokesperson for Project Destiny and a financial consultant for nonprofits. According to her website, she has assisted Lubbock churches and religious organizations like Trinity Church and Trinity Christian Schools.

“Project Destiny is the political action committee that got started in 2020, as a result of five grandmas who were aware of what was going on in our city and didn't know what to do, which at that time, it was a consideration for an ordinance that was for making Lubbock a sanctuary city for the unborn,” Clark said.

Lubbock’s sanctuary city for the unborn designation came from a 62% vote in 2021 to approve an ordinance that allowed private citizens to file civil lawsuits against someone seeking or providing an abortion, before the act of abortion was formally outlawed in Texas with the overturning of Roe v. Wade the following year.

Like the sanctuary city for the unborn effort, Prop A’s marijuana decriminalization ordinance came from a citywide petition to show the opinion of Lubbock voters on issues that oppose current Texas legislation, before both the sanctuary city and the decriminalization ordinances were rejected by the Lubbock city council because they countered state law.

At Trinity Church in 2021, Carl Toti praised the sanctuary city for the unborn ordinance vote as an “astounding victory.” This year, Toti shared his opposition to marijuana decriminalization in Lubbock.

“On May 4, if enough people show up in support of Prop A, and vote in favor of decriminalizing recreational marijuana, the bill will pass,” Toti told his congregation. “But if enough people are concerned for the quality of life for all Lubbock residents, especially youth and children, then the measure will fail. But it's up to you.”

For Project Destiny, Terisa Clark said opposing the proposition became a priority out of a concern that voters needed more information on the issue of decriminalization in Lubbock.

“We really felt like a lot of people care about this, they would have an opinion, they just don't know. So let's get the word out,” Clark said. “We need to make sure people know what's going on and what's being considered so that they can stand up and protect what they care about, what they want in our city.”

Informing citizens, and the ‘normal election process’

One parent has expressed concern that her child was used to give political direction to voters at home by an administrator at their Christian private school. She shared her experience on Facebook, saying the principal at her child’s private school stood by the door as kids left for the day, giving flyers that said “vote no to Prop A.”

The flyers gave a QR code and encouraged readers to find more at the Project Destiny Texas website.

The parent called the incident “extremely inappropriate” for a school, public or private. She added if they were handing out flyers from all sides of the issues and all party candidates, it could have been seen as an appropriate educational activity.

Activists behind the marijuana decriminalization ordinance, Freedom Act Lubbock, posted about the incident at Southcrest Christian School on Facebook, saying they believe giving children materials on marijuana would be “unethical.” Southcrest School did not respond to KTTZ’s request for comment.

Documents containing information and resources opposed to Proposition A were sent to KTTZ, addressing “pastors” and “Friends of Lubbock’s Children and Youth.”

According to the documents, “this guide is designed to support and enhance your understanding of the challenges of today's marijuana and the threat this ordinance poses to our children's future.”

The documents contain resources and handouts from Project Destiny, as well as signs, with the suggestion that readers could “place them on classroom doors and restroom doors.” The documents also contain a copy of the flyers that were said to have been distributed to students at Southcrest Christian School.

In an email, Project Destiny responded to the claims: “Project Destiny has reached out to every organization to spread the word on their stance to vote AGAINST Prop A. What those organizations do is then in their corner. Normal elections process. 

No Project Destiny person has ‘passed out info’ to students. If a school has decided to do so, that is a question for them. Project Destiny has simply worked hard to speak with any and all voters as any good campaign would work to do.”

Lubbock ISD Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations Erin Gregg said LISD did not meet with opponents to Proposition A, and the material was not distributed to LISD administrators.

UPDATE, Mon. April 22: Lubbock-Cooper ISD provided the following statement:

Superintendent Bryant has met with individuals campaigning against Proposition A, including representatives of Protect Lubbock. Materials* were provided to Superintendent Bryant by representatives of Protect Lubbock. The materials provided to Superintendent Bryant included an explanation of the proposed ordinance, cited statistics about the legalization and use of marijuana, and promotional materials used by the Protect Lubbock organization.

For informational purposes, and because of the proposition's significant potential impact on the students served by Lubbock-Cooper ISD, Superintendent Bryant shared the materials provided by Protect Lubbock with campus administrators during a meeting which included the discussion of a variety of topics with the potential to affect campus operations and student well-being, as is typical for any LCISD administrator meeting. Educators are regularly tasked with navigating health and disciplinary situations in which students are drug-impaired, or otherwise affected by potentially life-altering and/or dangerous situations involving the use or distribution of drugs. Information about any proposed political action that may influence student safety and well-being is information that is helpful to our administrators in the course of their responsibilities. Information about drugs, alcohol, vapes, substance use and abuse, and similar topics is regularly shared with the district and, in turn, passed along to campus administrators.

When distributing the materials to administrators, Superintendent Bryant communicated to administrators that the materials were received from the Protect Lubbock organization and were being shared for informational purposes only. Portions of the materials, including promotional materials, did not apply to LCISD administrators, as political advertisements cannot be posted on school grounds. To date, no organization or individuals campaigning in favor of Proposition A have requested a meeting with Superintendent Bryant.

Getting to the facts behind the claims

According to Project Destiny, increasing children’s exposure to marijuana might be hard to avoid if the passage of Proposition A makes marijuana more accessible, because “marijuana use targets school-aged youth.”

So far, the data on the accessibility claim has been mixed and is still developing.

A 2019 nationwide study found “no significant associations” between the enactment of recreational marijuana laws or medical marijuana laws and marijuana use among high school students, adding that further research will be needed to better define the associations between recreational marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use.

Some decreases in youth cannabis use could be a result of it becoming more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana when drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.

Here in Lubbock, Project Destiny and Freedom Act Lubbock agree on one point: Proposition A explicitly does not legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, especially to minors.

“This ordinance only deals with the Lubbock Police Department, it doesn't affect DPS or the sheriff's department,” Clark said. “This does not make it all of a sudden not a crime, it is still a crime. It's just saying if you happen to be caught with the crime by an LPD officer, this ordinance is trying to say that officers should not arrest if it's less than four ounces.”

In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that allows the production, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and products in Texas on the condition they stay at 0.3% or less delta-9 THC level. This legalized “hemp” strains of the marijuana plant genetically derived to contain low amounts of delta-9 THC, while providing similar psychoactive effects to traditional marijuana.

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a memo that same year that instructed officers to issue a citation as opposed to an arrest for people with less than four ounces. Those issued a citation for misdemeanor charges are still required to appear in court and still face the same penalties if convicted.

DPS said the citations were the Department’s way of maintaining enforcement of state marijuana laws after Texas prosecutors began to drop low-level marijuana cases because lab testing to differentiate between legal hemp and illegal marijuana was not available.

Products containing legal hemp derivatives such as gummies and vaporizer cartridges inferring similar psychoactive effects to illegal marijuana are available in Lubbock and across Texas, but are still illegal to sell to minors.

If the ordinance were to increase access to marijuana for kids, Clark said one of the first concerns would be what she sees as a chance for them to become “little entrepreneurs” in their involvement with the substance.

“All of us, we've been young people, and we have young people around us. They spot opportunity quickly. And you know, if there's a greater amount of drugs being moved, marijuana in this case, around our city, I know young people will get involved,” Clark explained. “Here's the deal: if they can get their hands on something that they can turn around and sell for more, they're just looking for an opportunity.”

Clark referred to a 2020 shooting in Lubbock where then-18-year-old Aaron Assiter was shot in the neck and paralyzed during an aggravated robbery after he tried to sell two single-gram THC cartridges to a stranger.

The shooters, one who later received a 99-year prison sentence, ran away before robbing Assiter. Police found little more than 0.2 of an ounce of marijuana and THC vape cartridges in Assiter's car. Assiter told officers he wanted to sell small amounts of marijuana and THC cartridges to come up with the money to fix his Jeep Wrangler.

“It's exactly what he did. He's like, I need to get some repairs on my jeep. I'm going to sell some marijuana to somebody, a small quantity, meets him in the parking lot," Clark said. “He gets shot. He's paraplegic. I mean, that is grievous.”

The decriminalization would not apply to selling a controlled substance, for minors or adults, who would still be charged under state law for trying to sell marijuana in Lubbock.

The proposed decriminalization ordinance also contains a carve-out where individuals under 18 who are caught with marijuana would be subject to sentencing under current state law, with punishments of 180 days to one year in a juvenile detention facility or jail, fines of $2,000 to $4,000, and a driver’s license suspension up to 6 months. Sentences for minors without prior felony convictions who are caught carrying a pound or less of marijuana can already be reduced to probation and drug treatment.

While the carve-out in the ordinance is a thoughtful addition, Clark said she believes the state’s current sentences for minors caught possessing marijuana are too lenient to deter them from carrying it.

“I appreciate the carve-out, but it doesn't make a difference to the consequences for a minor are still minimal, and they're not going to deter a young person from taking the risk that would come, and some of the risks we've already talked about that they see as opportunity,” Clark said. “They're going to feel their opportunity is greater than their risk.”

Clark described another risk that has her concerned: the long-term impacts of marijuana on younger brains. A 2023 study of more than 6.9 million people from Denmark found links between daily cannabis use, cannabis use disorder, and diagnoses of schizophrenia, with the highest cases showing in groups of young men.

“An experience with a substance when you're under the age of 25 can have far greater impacts, in the case of one of my family members, permanent schizophrenia,” Clark said. “It started with marijuana, it progressed to harder things. She actually was shot in the face by her boyfriend cooking meth, smoking meth.”

Harder drugs like fentanyl being “laced” into marijuana is a concern that Project Destiny has claimed is about dealers “making their product more “powerful,”” and “hooking their “consumer” on the product.” But Clark said this is more about illegal drugs like marijuana coming from a dealer in contact with other drugs, leading to users coming in contact with fentanyl unintentionally.

Both concerns have been disputed by experts, saying that fentanyl is dangerous when consumed in small doses and that drugs in illegal situations can sometimes become mixed.

However, skin contact with fentanyl won’t kill you, and burning fentanyl by rolling it in a joint will not increase the psychoactive effect, as the heat destroys the chemicals.

Project Destiny cited Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe in recent advertising, saying the “Mexican Drug Cartel” supplied “6 out of 10 joints smoked” in Lubbock county with high-grade strains from Colorado.

But after the recreational sale of marijuana passed in 2021, New Mexico started seeing more Texans taking a much shorter trip there to purchase legal marijuana from a dispensary.

The state of New Mexico sold more than $9.9 million in marijuana in the first week of legalization. Ruidoso earned $150,800 in recreational sales in the first week, and Hobbs, less than two hours from Lubbock, made almost $339,000.

No law has been passed in any state that allows marijuana sales from dispensaries to minors. But when it comes to substance use in Lubbock, access may not be the problem.

Prevention in current problems of substance use starts with attentive parents, caring community 

On April 18, a coalition of community members known as H.E.A.R.D. (Help Every Adolescent Reach their Dreams) held a town hall to discuss substance use issues in Lubbock youth, and how adults can respond.

The event included a question and answer session where few were surprised when the first question to experts was for an opinion on Proposition A.

Dr. Buddy Gerber, PhD, spoke to students, parents, and community leaders at the event about various substance use issues in Lubbock citizens, and especially high school-age kids.

Gerber is the Director of the Center for Students in Addiction Recovery at Texas Tech University and the first to be awarded a Ph.D. in Addictive Disorders and Recovery Studies from Texas Tech University in 2022, with his own lived experience in long-term recovery.

“Lubbock, Texas. How many kids do you think drank –high school kids in Lubbock, Texas– drank in the last 30 days?” Gerber asked the crowd. “Somewhere between 27 to 43%, depending on what age group. So right around 40%. How many do you think smoked marijuana? 10 to 22%.” 

Gerber said only 1% used any other substance in the last 30 days, but the most obvious issue is with the substance already widely available.

“What are they using the most of? Alcohol. But what do we talk the least about? Alcohol,” Gerber said. “We don't see a problem with it, right? So we've got to change the way that we look at things.”

When it comes to preventing substance use in kids, marijuana or alcohol, Gerber explained it’s less about the accessibility to the substances and more about the accessibility to healthy communication and attentive parenting.

Gerber described a survey taken of around 2,300 students in Lubbock County, where the students were asked who they would speak to if they were worried they had a problem using drugs or alcohol.

“And we asked them, ‘if you had problems with drugs, who would you talk to?’” Gerber said. “Who are they going to talk to the most? their friends.”

According to the survey’s data, only 7% of local 16-18 year-olds said they were inclined to speak to a church minister about drug concerns and 3% said they would talk to a school counselor, but 34% said they would speak to a friend.

The next closest pier groups that Lubbock teens said they would go to for a conversation about drug issues were their parents or siblings.

“Here's some things we do know: children who have good relationships with their parents and consider them role models are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors,” Gerber said. “Family support is also associated with abstinence, as well as improved psychological and social health accounts and effects, friendship choices.”

Kids who only feel like they have friends to rely on can fall into dangerous situations if those kids are just as susceptible to issues like substance use, so adults have to take responsibility for hard conversations with kids.

According to the Prevention Resource Center, having those hard conversations requires honesty and accuracy, avoiding fear-based tactics, and listening with the goal of providing support.

Gerber said it doesn’t work every time, but having your kids involved is important, and an essential component of effective youth development that increases the likelihood of positive outcomes.

“We give ourselves the best chance of it working by involving ourselves with our kids and involving our kids in other things. They need an outlet, they need an outlet to do things. They need your time, your presence, your care, and your consistency. It's not a one-time deal. It's every day,” Gerber said. “Above all, they need connection. They need connection, and they're going to get connection one way or another.”

In an interview after the town hall, Gerber said he thinks the full impact of marijuana decriminalization values more research and more thought, but that can be hard to do when there's loud voices on both sides.

“The problem is that if you want marijuana, it's not that hard to get in Lubbock, Texas. And so decriminalizing doesn't change that,” Gerber said. “It doesn't change the access to it, it's not going to increase the access to it, it's already there.”

Some in Lubbock expressed concern when it was announced that Clapp Pool in Lubbock would not be opening because of dilapidated equipment creating dangerous conditions for workers. Clapp Pool was the only facility expected to open this summer after the city council voted last year to close Lubbock’s aging pools and replace them with “splash pads.”

Closing the pools has been criticized by citizens who saw the pools as one of the few still available options for teens and kids to find entertainment before turning to accessible alternatives, like substance use.

For those kids in Lubbock who have been left without a reliable parental figure to promote healthy behaviors and conversations about substance use, Gerber said that’s when it’s up to the citizens of Lubbock to reflect a healthy community and provide.

“As a community, we need to come together and provide resources for those kids, we need to have activities that they can be involved in. The YWCA does a great job, the Boys and Girls Club does a great job,” Gerber said. “I think that as a community, we need to expose them to that and promote that.”

Gerber said people are often given the wrong idea about amounts of marijuana decriminalization, compared to how much of substances like marijuana people already use, but diverting treatment to health professionals who can help users realize they have a problem is more efficient than bringing them back and forth to jail for possession.

“This is decriminalization for a small amount. And I know people think four ounces is a lot, but it's not a ridiculous amount,” Gerber said. “Do we need to address that? Do we need to be doing things about that? Absolutely. Would a better solution be, instead of throwing those people in jail, having some sort of diversion that we're getting them some help from professionals that can help them to make sure that they don't have a substance use issue? Absolutely.”

The City of Lubbock and Lubbock County have spent $3.5 million in COVID-19 economic stimulus dollars on the Hope Center, a diversion center for people experiencing substance use and mental health crises, which broke ground on March 28.

The center will provide a place where people in Lubbock who are concerned about addiction or dealing with substance use disorders, from marijuana or alcohol to harder drugs, could go for assessment and be treated rather than being taken to the hospital or jail.

While he presses against the misnomer that marijuana can be a “gateway drug,” Gerber confirmed the long-term use issues for marijuana can be very real, especially for kids.

“Marijuana can cause some severe problems for adolescents," Gerber said. "And we know that it can, it has severe effects; and regardless of what people say, you can become addicted to marijuana.”

According to Dr. Gerber, the biggest issue for Lubbock kids and adults remains one that’s already legal and accessible. It drew out almost 51,000 people in 2009, when voters legalized packaged alcohol sales inside Lubbock city limits.

“We've got a problem in Lubbock, Texas, that we don't want to address. And that problem is alcohol,” Gerber said. “We're 38% above the national average for deaths from alcohol. We've got an alcohol problem. And so we need to address that.”

According to Gerber; alcohol, methamphetamines, and marijuana represent the biggest issues among users in Lubbock, but finding solutions to those problems requires a caring community being honest about substance use in the city, beyond criminal possession charges.

“Do we also need to address the other drugs? Absolutely," Gerber said. "But we've got a substance use issue that until the community says hey, we agree there's a substance use issue and we want to do something about it, then we're just kind of stuck where we are.”

For Lubbock parents, Dr. Gerber has one piece of advice for building relationships with kids who have questions about substance use.

“We can talk to our kids, and not talk to them about drugs; talk to our kids. Have dinner with our kids, sit with our kids, involve them in activities, be with our kids,” Gerber said. “So that when our kids have those questions, they know that they can turn to us."

Meanwhile, Terisa Clark is encouraging the voters of Lubbock to turn out and make their voices heard on this issue.

“I hope that we've gotten the word out, made the facts clear, and given people an understanding. That's really what matters most to Project Destiny,” Clark said. “How it's going to turn out? Well, that'll depend on who shows up to vote, so to all of your listeners, to the listeners of this, I would just say, get out and vote. That's the greatest and the most important thing we can do.”

Early voting begins Monday, April 22, and runs through Tuesday, April 30. Election Day for the municipal election will be Saturday, May 4.

To find voter registration information, voting centers, sample ballots and more information on this year’s municipal election, visit

Brad Burt is a reporter for KTTZ, born and raised in Lubbock. He has made a point to focus on in-depth local coverage, including civic and accountability reporting. Brad's professional interest in local journalism started on set as a member of the technical production team at KCBD Newschannel 11 before becoming a digital and investigative producer.