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Organizations behind San Marcos marijuana decriminalization measure host 'get out the vote' event

The organizations were joined by numerous local candidates on the grounds of Texas State University as they focus on getting college students to vote.

SAN MARCOS, Texas — On Monday afternoon, Mano Amiga Action and Ground Game Texas kicked off their “get out the vote” campaign for City of San Marcos Proposition A, the ballot measure that would decriminalize marijuana. It will be on the November ballot for San Marcos residents to vote on. 

The organizations were joined by numerous local candidates on the grounds of Texas State University as they focus on getting college students to vote.

The ballot measure calls for the elimination of enforcement for people found in possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana. As of right now, San Marcos police can only issue citations, not arrests, for marijuana due to a 2020 ordinance that Mano Amiga pushed for. This November 2022 ballot measure would prohibit arrests and citations for low-level marijuana offenses. 

"They still have to get their mugshots and fingerprints taken and they still have a criminal record," said Elle Cross, the right to justice coordinator for Mano Amiga. 

Prop A would also make it so San Marcos police cannot use the smell of marijuana as probable cause for a search.

"We believe that they should not be able to use the smell of marijuana to just find more and more charges to add on to someone who's just trying to go about their day," said Cross. 

But Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau has some concerns about this part of the proposed ordinance.

"Police often find other evidence of more serious crimes when they are enforcing the marijuana statutes, and those cases will not be discovered in this situation," said District Attorney Mau. 

The ballot measure states the exceptions to this ordinance would be if the marijuana arrest is connected to a violent felony or felony drug charge.

District Attorney Mau said this only applies to San Marcos police, so other agencies could still cite and arrest people for these offenses. 

"In theory, only the San Marcos Police Department officers would be prohibited from enforcing those statutes," said Mau. "All the other law enforcement in the county would be."

He also said San Marcos police take an oath to follow state law which, in Texas, does criminalize marijuana.

"I imagine the police are going to have at least have some difficulty in trying to decide how far are they going to let this go before they just decide they're going to have to violate this ordinance," said Mau. 

While some County leaders say this is a complicated legal issue, people with Mano Amiga say it is one they believe will bring people out to the polls in November. 

"Young people care a lot about getting this passed," said Cross. "So, we believe that we're going to have a historic turnout of young people."

In June, the groups announced they had collected enough signatures to secure a ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana across the City of San Marcos. In July, those signatures were certified by the city clerk, and they have now also been certified by the city council.

Organizers said they had individually verified more than 4,600 unique signatures. According to City Charter, only 4,182 are required, which is 10% of of registered voters in San Marcos.

The coalition said despite collecting more than 11,000 signatures from residents, only 4,667 of their voter registrations were up to date. The groups said they are now working to help any petition signee who is not registered in San Marcos update their registration and navigate the process to do so.

“Access to information is a serious barrier when it comes to civic engagement,” said Sam Benavides, communications director with Mano Amiga. “We saw that during the signature-collecting phase of this campaign, we had an extremely low verification rate. So many people don’t know they need to update their voter registration each time they move, even if they continue living in the same city. And with students, it’s common to move apartments every year.”

The group distributed literature, yard signs, stickers and rally signs to those backing the ballot measure.

“This campaign has a wonderful opportunity to register thousands of new voters and, even more importantly, convince those new voters to cast their ballot this November,” said Mike Siegel, political director for Ground Game Texas. “San Marcos might surprise a lot of people when record numbers of students turn out to pass Prop. A and decriminalize weed.”

A similar ballot initiative was also recently successful in Austin, with voters casting their votes to pass it. The Austin initiative also banned the use of no-knock warrants.

Ground Game Texas is also working on another marijuana ballot item in Killeen.

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