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San Marcos activists collecting signatures for marijuana decriminalization ballot initiative

Organization Mano Amiga believes it is high time for a change in San Marcos. It has launched a joint effort to end arrests for misdemeanor possession charges.

SAN MARCOS, Texas — Progressive policy reform organization Mano Amiga has sparked up an effort to decriminalize marijuana in San Marcos.

The organization began gathering signatures in early December, in a joint effort to get an initiative on the November ballot. It needs 10% of registered voters in San Marcos to sign the petition before the measure can be considered.

Mano Amiga communications director Samantha Benavides said the organization believes it is high time for a change.

“Just one night in jail can destabilize your life so significantly,” Benavides said. "We're just hoping to get rid of all of that when it comes to cannabis."

RELATED: San Marcos activists continue chipping away at what they say are strict marijuana laws

A 2020 ordinance in Austin officially ended APD arrests and citations for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Austin police will only make arrests if there is an immediate safety threat or it is part of a separate felony-level investigation. Marijuana remains illegal in the state of Texas.

The San Marcos initiative would guarantee that “San Marcos police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses,” except under limited circumstances.

Data from national research organization The Vera Institute shows around 250 people were arrested in the county for marijuana possession in a six-month period, with one in every 10 bookings related to cannabis possession. In about a quarter of those bookings, possession is the only charge.

Those charges can have a lasting impact on those arrested, even for those caught with small amounts, Mano Amiga said.

RELATED: Austin police officially end arrests, citations for misdemeanor marijuana offenses

In 2020, Mano Amiga helped push city leaders to largely bar San Marcos law enforcement from arresting low-level offenders, including people carrying small amounts of marijuana. San Marcos became the first Texas city to adopt a so-called "cite-and-release" policy.

Instead of sending offenders straight to jail, law enforcement officers can write the criminal a ticket that may include a court summons.

"While it's groundbreaking and monumental, people are still getting citations for these offenses," Benavides said. "They still have to go through the booking process and pay court costs and fees. They still have to seek an attorney."

Mano Amiga said it expects signature-gathering efforts to "really take off in the coming weeks" with plans to take petitioners to community events, the Texas State University campus and door-to-door. Right now, the group has 270 signatures. It needs about 4,400 in total, according to Benavides. 

Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau said he wouldn't support any local efforts to decriminalize marijuana in San Marcos because he has to follow state law. Under state law, recreational marijuana is still illegal in Texas. He also added that almost all of their jury trials in misdemeanor courts are DWI and assault cases.   

City Councilmember Maxfield Baker said he supports the push to decriminalize marijuana. Baker said considering the City is using an economic incentive to bring GoodBlend, a compassionate-use facility for growing and distributing marijuana, to the community, it makes sense. 

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