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Group pushes to decriminalize marijuana in Dallas despite Paxton lawsuit

A marijuana leaf
AP file photo
The progressive group Ground Game Texas is collecting signatures to get a decriminalization measure on the ballot in Dallas, despite state Attorney General Ken Paxton suing other cities with similar ordinances.

A progressive group is still gathering signatures to have a vote on decriminalizing marijuana in the city of Dallas — even after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued cities with similar ordinances.

Ground Game Texas is trying to collect at least 35,000 signatures to get the Dallas Freedom Act on the November ballot. If passed, the measure would amend the city’s charter to end enforcement of low-level marijuana crimes, making it the biggest city to do so.

“Nobody should be locked in jail for a joint,” said Catina Voellinger, the group’s Chief Operating Officer.

Ground Game Texas was behind successful efforts to decriminalize marijuana in five cities around the state – Denton, Austin, Killeen, Elgin, and San Marcos.

Last month, Paxton sued those cities, saying their decriminalization policies break state law and violate the Texas Constitution.

“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 wrote in a press release.

Voellinger said Ground Game Texas plans to intervene in the lawsuits. She called them an “attack on local democracy,” but said they haven’t discouraged the group from collecting signatures in Dallas.

“We're bringing change into the people's hands and letting them decide,” she said.

Just like the other five municipalities, Dallas is a home-rule city, meaning it has “the power to govern itself so long as charter provisions or ordinances are not inconsistent with state or federal law,” according to the Texas Municipal League.

Last year, Dallas’s Office of Community Police Oversight reported arrests for possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana had significantly decreased, from 456 in 2018 to 42 in 2022, but Hispanic and Black residents made up 70% of those arrests.

University of Texas at Dallas student Meadow Peña lives in Oak Cliff and said she has seen how these policies affect her community.

“It's crazy to see how many of my friends are actually in prison for just something as little as marijuana,” Peña said.

Peña and fellow student Isabella Spartz have been helping gather signatures for Ground Game Texas to get the charter amendment on the ballot. The one thing they noticed was how receptive the city has been to the group’s efforts.

“The majority of [Dallas residents] want this,” Peña said. “It's just never presented before.” 

Juan Salinas II is a KERA news intern. Got a tip? Email Juan at You can follow Juan on X @4nsmiley

Juan Salinas II is currently studying journalism at UT-Arlington. He is a transfer student from TCC, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian, and his reporting has also appeared in Central Track, D Magazine, The Shorthorn and other Texas news outlets.