Austin voters to decide on decriminalizing marijuana, banning no-knock warrants

More than 30,000 signatures later, voter engagement group "Ground Game Texas" now has enough to get The Austin Freedom Act on the May ballot.

"It would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession cases, and it would also ban no-knock warrants which are really, dangerous for communities and for law enforcement," said Julie Oliver, executive director, Ground Game Texas.

If it passes, the new law would decriminalize Class A and Class B misdemeanor possession charges. That is up to about two ounces. Austin police officers already have stopped enforcing this, but this gives this rule more teeth and writes into city ordinance.

"City council passed a resolution and that resolution is non-binding so if we ever got a new police chief or a new district attorney, it is not binding, not written into the city laws, so this would codify it into the city ordinances," said Oliver.

The effort for the marijuana is not so bothersome to the Austin Police Association. They are more concerned about banning no-knock warrants. "It's not being abused. It has to be approved by the APD commander and a judge. Let them be the deciders," said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.

The union president said no-knock warrants are only used for violent offenders and only about two-five times per year in Austin. He said sometimes giving the suspect ample time, creates ample disasters for both residents and officers.

"You'd knock on a door and wait for several minutes before you enter. This is a situation where you just knock and enter. It gives officers the element of surprise," said Casaday.

"Put yourself in their situation saying if the Austin bomber had been in his residence. You're in a situation where you're waiting to enter someone's residence without a no-knock, and then all of a sudden you go through the door and a bomb explodes in your face," he said.

Oliver said she is worried about the warrants targeting people of color, and lower-level crimes. "We are following the city of Killeen's lead here. They passed this last year I believe early 2021 after having a no-knock warrant go bad," said Oliver.

Voters will have the chance to decide at the polls on May 7. Oliver said it will be up to the Austin City Council to decide if the two issues will be grouped together on the ballot. Chief Joseph Chacon was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. Ground Game Texas is expected to hold a press conference with more information on Friday, Jan. 14.

Austin group pushes to decriminalize marijuana, ban no-knock warrants
What does it take to get a citizen initiative on the ballot in Austin?

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