Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed lawsuits against five Texas cities – Austin, Denton, San Marcos, Killeen and Elgin – over their marijuana amnesty and non-prosecution policies.
The litigation charges that the five municipalities adopted ordinances or policies instructing police not to enforce Texas drug laws concerning possession and distribution of marijuana, which the state attorney general’s office describes as “an illicit substance that psychologists have increasingly linked to psychosis and other negative consequences.”
“I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities,” Paxton said in a statement Wednesday. “This unconstitutional action by municipalities demonstrates why Texas must have a law to ‘follow the law.’ It’s quite simple: the legislature passes every law after a full debate on the issues, and we don’t allow cities the ability to create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce.”
The ordinances notably prevent city funds from going toward or personnel from even testing suspected marijuana seized by police officers, with limited exceptions.
The attorney general’s office said Paxton “remains committed to maintaining law and order in Texas when cities violate the lawful statutes designed to protect the public from crime, drugs, and violence. He continues to seek accountability for the rogue district attorneys whose abuse of prosecutorial discretion has contributed to a deadly national crimewave.”
The lawsuits stress that Texas Local Government Code forbids any political subdivision from adopting “a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.” Further, the Texas Constitution notes that it is unlawful for municipalities to adopt ordinances that are inconsistent with the laws enacted by the Texas Legislature (Article 9, Section 5).
Namely, with the Democratically-run city of Austin, Paxton’s lawsuit takes issue with an order that became effective on July 3, 2020, instructing the Austin Police Department not to make an arrest or issue a citation for marijuana possession unless in the investigation of a violent felony or high priority felony-level narcotics case.
A ballot measure known as Proposition A to further eliminate low-level marijuana enforcement later won the vote in 2022, and the City Council codified it into law as the Austin Freedom Act.
In addition to limiting police from filing marijuana possession charges unless they come as part of a high-level probe or at the direction of a commander, the measure also states that no city funds or personnel shall be used to request, conduct, or obtain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) testing of any cannabis-related substance, except in some limited circumstances. It adds the caveat that the prohibition shall not limit the ability of police to conduct toxicology testing to ensure public safety, nor shall it limit THC testing for the purpose of any violent felony charge.
Austin, Denton, San Marcos, Killeen and Eligin are all considered “home-rule” jurisdictions, meaning they have the “full power of self-government” and do not need grants from the state legislature to enact local ordinances.
In Killeen, located next to the once embattled Fort Hood, since renamed Fort Cavazos, voters approved a Proposition A of their own in 2022.
It similarly states that officers should not make arrests for marijuana possession or drug residue alone. If there is probable cause to believe a substance is marijuana, officers can seize the substance. But the ordinance requires that police then also write a detailed report and release the individual if possession of marijuana is the sole charge.
In Denton, located in the Dallas Fort-Worth metro area, another similar measure enacted by City Council known as Proposition B says officers cannot issue citations or make arrests for Class A or B misdemeanor marijuana possession. Elgin, considered a suburb of Austin, and San Marcos, which sits on the corridor between Austin and San Antonio, also both adopted similar ordinances designed to stifle marijuana enforcement in conflict with state law, according to Paxton’s lawsuits.
The litigation comes after headline-making news out of California, where a judge recently ruled a woman who stabbed her boyfriend 108 times before slicing her own neck as police tried to stop her will not serve any prison time because she had fallen into a pot-fueled psychosis after getting high on drugs at the time.
Though unrelated, the marijuana lawsuits were filed just a day after the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to temporarily halt Paxton’s scheduled testimony in a whistleblower lawsuit that was at the heart of the impeachment charges brought against him in 2023, delaying what could have been the Republican’s first sworn statements on corruption allegations.