San Marcos group announces effort to decriminalize marijuana

Grassroots organization Mano Amiga is hoping to end marijuana arrests in San Marcos.

"We’re kicking off our campaign to decriminalize cannabis in San Marcos and our game plan is to do it via a ballot initiative," said Samantha Benavides of Mano Amiga.

The group will start collecting signatures in January to petition for the proposition to be added to next November’s ballot.

Mano Amiga said data provided by nonprofit national research organization The Vera Institute shows too many people in Hays County are serving time for marijuana possession. About 250 people were arrested in the county in a six-month period.  

"So what we’re seeing in Hays County is that one in every 10 bookings is related to possession of cannabis, in about a quarter of those bookings possession is the only charge," said Sarah Minion, program associate of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The organization argues the effects of possession charges have lasting impacts on those arrested, even for people caught with minor amounts.

"They’ll have a permanent criminal record that can be found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, and banks, and it can also result in the loss of employment, housing, financial aid, childcare and, in many cases, child custody," Minion said.

The Vera institute partnered with Hays County Commissioners to analyze trends in the jail population. After studying the data, they found that even though a larger number of white people are arrested and booked, black people are arrested at a higher rate than white people, 

"We see a lot of racial disparities across the country, and, in Texas black people are arrested at about 2.6 times the rate of white people for cannabis possession, and, in Hays County we see that number being almost twice as high at four times," said Frankie Wunschel, research associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.

That’s why Mano Amiga said decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in the effort to reach equity. They’re hoping San Marcos voters will agree.

In order to get decriminalization on next November’s ballot, Mano Amiga will need 10 percent of voters in San Marcos to sign their petition.

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