Residents of Dallas, Texas are attempting to decriminalize marijuana within city limits through a petition to get the Dallas Freedom Act on the November ballot. The organizations backing this petition hope to build on the momentum of similar successful campaigns in Texas cities like Austin, San Marcos, Killeen, and Denton. If they receive 20,000 signatures, the act will be on the ballot in November.
The coalition of community organizations involved with the petition gathered outside of the Frank Crowley Courthouse in Dallas on Monday, January 29 as part of a rally for marijuana reform.
“Our jail is full of people arrested for misdemeanor arrests,” said Changa Higgins, with the Dallas Action coalition. “And when you look at misdemeanor possession of marijuana, it’s no different.”
“To amend the city of Dallas charter so that police do not give folks citations or arrest folks for misdemeanor marijuana possession,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, of the coalition’s goal. The Dallas Freedom Act would also prohibit the allocation of government funds to the purchase of THC concentration tests. This is the only proven way to distinguish whether an individual has been using legal hemp or illegal marijuana.
The coalition has received support from the Dallas Democratic Party and Dallas County Justice of the Peace Adam Swartz. Swartz asserted that the act would, “provide clarity and consistency for courts, for families, and police and everyday people in the city of Dallas.”
Director of Urban Policy Research at UT Dallas, Dr. Timothy Bray, weighed in on why the movement to decriminalize marijuana has gotten so much traction in Texas. “It’s happening in many cities, especially because cities have a great deal of influence over who their police officers pull over, who gets stopped, who gets searched,” he told Fox 4.
The Dallas Police Department currently operates under a “cite and release” policy when it comes to small or personal amounts of marijuana possession. If the act is put on the ballot and passed, this would change. “Amending the city’s charter makes it more difficult for future councils or future residents to change the initiative,” said Bray.
Dr. Bray explained that his research echoed a May 2023 report by Dallas Action that stated a disproportionate number of Black residents are arrested by the Dallas police, including for offenses related to marijuana possession. “African Americans and other people of color may be four to five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. So decriminalization lowers those effects,” he said.
While the Dallas Freedom Act cannot legalize marijuana possession – that must be done at the state level – it could potentially decriminalize it. Julie Oliver told Fox 4 that she is confident they will get 20,000 signatures, and she thinks the act will pass in November. Marijuana reforms may be gaining traction in Texas at a local level, but the state shows no signs of changing its attitude towards legalization. Texas is one of the 26 states in the union that have not legalized recreational marijuana use, and the state’s medicinal program is one of the strictest in the country.