Voters in 6 Texas cities have tried decriminalizing pot - how did they fare?

San Antonio’s Prop A would be the latest ballot initiative to try to prohibit arrests or citations for marijuana

SAN ANTONIO – Proposition A may not be all about marijuana, but it’s undoubtedly what helped propel it onto San Antonio’s May 6 ballot.

The sweeping proposed charter amendment includes a section that would prohibit San Antonio police from citing or arresting people for misdemeanor levels of marijuana, which includes anything up to 4 ounces. It includes exceptions for cases that are linked to violent felonies or felony-level narcotics investigations are included.

Even if it passes, San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia has already said the city would not enforce most of the proposition, including the marijuana decriminalization, because it contradicts state law.

It’s not a new issue. Six other Texas cities have overwhelmingly passed ballot initiatives with similar language, though the results have varied greatly.

Austin was the first in the May 2022 election. San Marcos, Elgin, Killeen, Harker Heights, and Denton followed suit in November 2022.

Ground Game Texas was involved in all six campaigns and is also part of the push for the so-called San Antonio Justice Charter.

Its political director, Michael Siegel, says enforceability is “as much a political question as it is a legal question.”

“So essentially, what we know is that in places where the city council wants to enforce marijuana decriminalization, it gets enforced. Where the city council is less supportive, they allow city staff to basically frustrate enforcement,” Siegel said.

Six cities have already passed ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession with varying results (KSAT)


Prop A supporters most frequently reference Austin’s decriminalization efforts as proof that it can be achieved.

But while 71% of voters approved an ordinance to prohibit the enforcement of misdemeanor marijuana possession, Austin police had already announced in July 2020 that they planned to cease citations and arrests for low-level citations and added it to their general manual.

It was clear the city council was amenable, though, having passed a resolution in January 2020 against spending city money to test for THC, the psychoactive portion of the drug.

“Austin, by virtue of its reform, has kept thousands of people out of the criminal justice system,” Siegel said.


The small city east of Austin in Bastrop County appears to remain in limbo after voters approved its ordinance with 74% support. In a statement provided by a city staff member, City Manager Tom Mattis said:

“There have been questions raised by all impacted cities about the constitutionality of the ordinance. We believe an Attorney General’s opinion is forthcoming on this matter. On the advice of counsel, we have delayed implementation of the ordinance until such time as we receive and have a chance to review the AG’s opinion.”


The city in Bell County passed its ordinance with 64% support, the lowest of the six cities, but its reception in city government was much worse.

The week after canvassing the election results, the city council repealed the voter-passed decriminalization ordinance. In an open letter, City Manager David Mitchell said the council had “no choice but to repeal the ordinance as it was inconsistent with state law.”

Proponents don’t appear to be done trying, though. A new proposition on whether to allow that repeal is on the May 6 ballot.


Also situated in Bell County, next to Fort Hood, Killeen appears to have largely adopted the ordinance voters approved by 69%, though the council voted to remove a portion prohibiting police from using the smell of marijuana as probable cause for a search.

Police Chief Charles Campbell presented an update to city council on March 21 about the implementation of the ordinance. Between Nov. 9 and Feb. 28, he reported, 146 of the 188 people contacted in relation to marijuana were released.

For most of the 42 who were arrested, there was some other issue at play.

“They had warrants. They had a gun on them. They had other drugs on them. They had -- they were subject of a search warrant. They maybe had been identified by the staff -- a captain or above -- are people involved in our ongoing gang activity,” Campbell told council members.

The willingness to follow the new ordinance has come with its own problems. The Killeen Daily Herald reports the Bell County Commissioners agreed in late December 2022 to file a lawsuit over the city’s implementation of the ordinance. However, a city spokeswoman said that as of Thursday that had not yet happened.


The Dallas-area city, which is home to two state universities, passed its ordinance with 71% support.

The decriminalization efforts have found less support within the city government, where implementation appears to be stalled. In a memo to city council the day after the vote, City Manager Sara Hensley wrote “the City does not have the authority to implement some provisions of Proposition B without changes to current drug laws by Congress and the Texas Legislature.”

The council has had at least two occasionally tense meetings as it debates what can be done.

“I do not direct the police chief. He gets his oath from the state of Texas. I could tell him to break the law, but that is not what I will do as a professional,” Hensley said in a March 7 meeting.


The growing college town south of Austin in Hays County had the highest amount of support for its decriminalization effort at more than 80%.

Police Chief Stan Standridge was worried about going against state law. So rather than put an official policy into place, he sent out a memo on how to handle marijuana arrests going forward.

The effect, he says, is the same.

“It is everybody’s belief that we absolutely do follow this ordinance,” Standridge said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Valerie Gomez is lead video editor and graphic artist for KSAT Explains. She began her career in 2014 and has been with KSAT since 2017. She helped create KSAT’s first digital-only newscast in 2018, and her work on KSAT Explains and various specials have earned her a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and multiple Emmy nominations.