You’ve likely heard of the growing state and hyper localized movement in the cannabis legalization space: Ground Game Texas (GGT).
GGT has been working several cities on progressive measures to include decriminalization of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana flower. The success has already taken root in Austin, and now Texans wait to see if other towns such as Denton and San Marcos will join the ranks after this coming election in November. I had a chance to reach out and inquire with the co-founders Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel to get some insight and see what is in store for the blooming reform group in Texas.
Jesse Williams / TX Hemp Reporter: – How did GGT come to be the organization it is today? I know that both Mike and you have been candidates for congressional office in the past. What happened for each one that y’all made the jump from that to cannabis advocacy?
Julie Oliver: After our congressional losses in 2020, Mike and I knew we wanted to stay involved in helping push progressive issues forward in Texas while also helping turn out voters. Texas has a terrible record when it comes to voter turnout; e.g. in November 2020, 5.7 million registered Texans did not vote.
Mike Siegel – Julie read a post-mortem on the 2020 election, and one page in particular stood out – it was a page on all of the ballot initiatives that outperformed Democrats in red and blue states. Florida passed a $15/hour minimum wage by ballot initiative. Missouri expanded Medicaid. Nebraska reformed the most predatory of lending practices – the payday loan. And both Montana and South Dakota legalized cannabis. These are really progressive issues that won overwhelmingly in these states, but folks aren’t connecting the dots that their elected officials aren’t passing these issues as legislation.
So voters in each of these states took it into their hands to make change; it’s direct democracy. In Texas, we do not have the power of citizen-led statewide ballot initiatives, but we do have the power to make change happen locally in several cities in Texas. So we decided to start in our own city with cannabis decrim.
TX Hemp Reporter: – I know of movements in Denton, Killeen, Harker Heights, Austin, and San Marcos here in Texas that are doing decriminalization measures. Are there any other cities currently trying to get a ballot initiative going?
JO – We completed signature collection in Elgin as well. More cities to come in 2023.
TX Hemp Reporter: – Are there any other cities that Ground Game is looking to focus on next with an attempt to decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana possession?
MS – We are looking at a number of cities for 2023, but Houston is likely one of the cities we will work in with a group of activists there.
TX Hemp Reporter: – The Ground Game website states, “We’re not waiting for politicians to make change. We will work to put popular policies on the ballot and engage voters on the issues.” In Austin the decriminalization measure was also with a measure to end no-knock warrants. Are there any other policies that ground game is looking at in Austin, or any other city for that matter?
JO – In South Texas, we are working on $15/hour minimum wage increases for city employees and city contractors. In El Paso, we are finalizing signature collection for a climate initiative that would require the city to take steps to meaningfully address climate change. I think we can also have meaningful reform through the ballot initiative when it comes to civil asset forfeiture.
TX Hemp Reporter: – Some ballot initiatives like the one in Austin are aimed at getting the vote done during the primary election season/statewide election off season votes. Others are aimed at getting the vote on a midterm election ballot. Can you elaborate on why those votes take place at separate times. Is it because of when voter signatures are due?
MS – We think that putting popular, progressive issues on ballots across our state will help drive turnout in a state that ranks near bottom in terms of voter turnout. Texas had 5.7million registered voters who did not vote in November 2020; that means more folks didn’t vote in Texas than voted for President Biden.
When a ballot initiative shows up on a ballot is a function of when signatures are turned in to the City Secretary or City Clerk, when the City Secretary/Clerk verifies the requisite numbers of signatures have been submitted, and then when City Council takes it up for vote. Ultimately, we’d love to help drive turnout in lower-turnout elections (like the midterm election later this year).
TX Hemp Reporter: – What other organizations has Ground Game partnered with that are local and statewide organizations to fight for change? I know of Mano Amiga, Texas Cannabis Collective, and Decriminalize Denton, as I have personally worked with all three in some capacity on campaigns for signature drives and events to change cannabis law in San Marcos and the state?
JO – Yes, we’re grateful for the boots-on-the-ground partnerships we’ve made in the cities you mentioned. We couldn’t do any of this work without local partners. In Killeen, we are working with local activists and the former Mayor Pro-Tem, who retired from City Council but still wants to see meaningful criminal justice reform in her city. In El Paso (which is probably our most ambitious and comprehensive initiative), we partnered with the local Sunrise Movement hub. In South Texas, we are working with Lupe Votes. And as I mentioned, if we do work in Houston next year on cannabis decrim, it will be in partnership with local advocates there as well.
TX Hemp Reporter: – Are there any other big names whether they be current officer holders, former office holders, celebrities or the like that have shown support for Ground Game Texas? Or are there any names that would come as surprising to show support? I know that Beto O’Rourke has made cannabis a talking point of his campaign for Governor, I can imagine he supports GGT.
MS – I’m sure there are 🙂
TX Hemp Reporter: – What does the organization see as its future after the 2022 elections?
JO – Texas is a huge state, and we see the opportunity in many cities to put “workers, wages, and weed” on ballots across our state.
TX Hemp Reporter: The website for Ground Game Texas is https://www.groundgametexas.org/. Are there any other avenues of information for readers to check out to get a better grip on what’s going on with the policy changes you’re tackling that you all could recommend?
MS – In addition to our website, we also have a social media presence – IG, Twitter, FB – @groundgametx
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