Austin group pushes to decriminalize marijuana, ban no-knock warrants

On Wednesday, voter engagement and mobilization organization Ground Game Texas will present thousands of signatures to City Hall in hopes of securing a new initiative on the upcoming ballot.

The “Austin Freedom Act of 2021” would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and ban no-knock police warrants. “These are two measures that have been very popular with voters but have not yet become city law,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas.

Though marijuana is illegal in Texas, a 2020 city ordinance changed how Austin police officers enforce it in certain situations. Essentially, the ballot language would not really change the status quo. “I don’t really see the point to this because we already changed the law,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. “Our officers don’t arrest for low amounts of marijuana.”

However, Siegel and his supporters believe it needs to be made official.

“What we’re trying to do with the marijuana aspect of this ordinance is to formalize a current informal policy and to make sure we’re not wasting money sending people to jail for having a little pot on them,” said Siegel.

The second part of the initiative would ban no-knock search warrants. Siegel believes they’re unnecessary and dangerous – citing instances where they have resulted in death or injury to officers or civilians.

“This is another issue where the city council has asked the police to stop doing this practice, but it has not been formally been put into law,” he said. “We want to avoid unnecessary injury to residents and officers themselves.”

However, throughout his law enforcement experience, Casaday has seen their necessity in certain situations and noted they are seldom used. “I think we’ve done 3 or 4 in the city this year,” he said. “There haven’t been that many this year, and it’s usually saved for very violent individuals or people that have barricaded their homes.”

Siegel said on Wednesday they will present over 34,000 signatures to the city clerk – 22,000 of which have been pre-validated. At least 20,000 valid signatures are required to be certified for the ballot.

“This is just a case of the people taking matters into their own hands and getting at least our city government to do the right thing,” said Siegel.

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What does it take to get a citizen initiative on the ballot in Austin?

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