Austinites can vote next week to decriminalize marijuana, end no-knock warrants

Hannah Ortega, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 22, 2022 flipbook.

Austinites can cast their votes starting April 25 on a proposition that could end no-knock warrants and citations or arrests for low-level marijuana offenses.

Proposition A stems from the Austin Freedom Act of 2021, which is the brainchild of the progressive non-profit Ground Game Texas. Julie Oliver, co-founder and executive director of Ground Game Texas, said the act would prohibit law enforcement from punishing citizens for Class A and Class B marijuana possession misdemeanors. A Class A misdemeanor is up to four ounces of marijuana, while up to two ounces of marijuana counts as a Class B misdemeanor.

Oliver said the act would also ban no-knock warrants by requiring law enforcement officers to knock, announce themselves and wait 15 seconds before entering a residence.

“(No-knock warrants are) very, very dangerous, both to law enforcement and to the residences in which they’re served,” Oliver said. “Sometimes, they serve them based on an anonymous tip and not much more, and it just creates this very, very dangerous environment for law enforcement and the folks who live around the area where a no-knock warrant is served.”

Austin City Council voted to place the proposition on the May 7 ballot after Ground Game Texas received nearly 35,000 petition signatures earlier this year from supportive community members, according to Oliver. Muneeb “Meebs” Aslam, a Travis County Democratic Party precinct chair and graduate student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said he helped gather signatures and wrote a resolution that secured support from the county executive committee.

“We gathered way more signatures than we needed, which was amazing,” Aslam said. “A lot of it is volunteer work, which is why it is hard to gather all the signatures. I volunteered, I got all my friends to volunteer and to go around, and people were more than happy to sign on this effort.”

Zachary Krakauer Ganz, a communication and leadership sophomore, also helped collect signatures and said these issues have support from both sides of the political spectrum.

“I think this will pass,” Krakauer Ganz said. “It’s just a tricky time of year to get students to vote because it’s right after the semester ends. Election Day is literally one day after the last day of class.”

Oliver said current punishment for marijuana possession disproportionately affects people of color and can harshly impact people’s lives.

“In every city where we’ve done public information requests, the demographic that bears the brunt of enforcement are the residents of color, and primarily Black residents,” Oliver said. “We found in Killeen, Texas, (where) we’re doing a similar initiative, 40% of the residents of Killeen are Black, but almost 80% of the arrests are folks who are Black, and 92% of all arrests are people of color.”

Following the May 7 election, Ground Game Texas will continue working on initiatives involving marijuana decriminalization, minimum wage increases and more in cities such as Killeen, Harker Heights and El Paso, according to Oliver.

“With the feedback that we’ve gotten from the community, people are very excited for (this proposition), especially young folks,” Aslam said. “So we’re hoping to mobilize and engage young folks, especially University students, and Austinites around this issue.”

Early voting runs through May 3 and Election Day is May 7. Voters must present a photo ID to vote in person. Registered voters can vote early or on Election Day on campus at the Flawn Academic Center or the Perry-Castañeda Library. Early voting polling locations are open Monday – Saturday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon – 6 p.m. Polls are open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Election Day.