Former NBA Player Iman Shumpert Arrested in Texas for Cannabis Possession

Former NBA athlete Iman Shumpert, known for playing on teams such as the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, and Brooklyn Nets, and also the Dancing With the Stars Season 30 champion was arrested for cannabis possession last week while traveling.

Shumpert was in possession of 6.2 ounces of cannabis in his luggage on July 30 while going through security at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on his way to Los Angeles. According to the Associated Press, the DFW Airport Department of Public Safety, this was a “sizeable amount of marijuana.” The police also reported that Shumpert had a Glock magazine with 14 nine-millimeter rounds, but no firearm, in his bag as well, however this is not currently a part of the charge.

The police report stated that Shumpert told officers that he had cannabis in his bag, and “asked if there was any way he could make his flight” so he could arrive on time and pick up one of his daughters.

However, police told him no, and arrested him for felony possession instead.

In Texas, recreational cannabis is illegal and medical cannabis is only permitted under specific circumstances. Currently, possession of more than four ounces (but less than five pounds) of cannabis is a state jail felony. If Shumpert is convicted, the charge could net him up to two years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.

It’s a cautionary tale for anyone planning to travel with cannabis. Many airports in legal states have loosened restrictions for cannabis possession. Earlier this year in Canada, one airport was considering allowing a cannabis dispensary on-site. Airports in Chicago installed cannabis amnesty boxes in 2020 for travelers to drop their cannabis in prior to their flights. In 2018, Los Angeles International Airport changed its policy to allow cannabis possession at the airport—but not on an actual flight.

Earlier this year in January, rapper Vic Mensa was caught with 124 grams of psilocybin capsules, 178 grams of psilocybin gummies, six grams of psilocybin mushrooms, and 41 grams LSD, while at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia after returning from Ghana. He was charged with felony narcotics possession. Despite this, Vic Mensa recently launched his own cannabis brand in Chicago, Illinois called 93 Boyz.

Traveling with cannabis abroad has proven to be dangerous, such as the case of WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia in February for possession of vape cartridges. Although she claimed the cannabis was being used for medical purposes, and she holds a medical cannabis card in the U.S., Russian judges concluded on August 4 that she is guilty of her charges and has been sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison. Reports have shared that the U.S. is in talks with Russian officials for a potential prisoner swap in order bring Griner home. Last week, the Biden administration made an offer to exchange Russian prisoner Viktor Bout for Griner, as well as another American, Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned on espionage charges since 2018.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said after the charge was issued, according to the Associated Press. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”

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Cannabis’ Big Impact on Border Towns

Since its founding in 1862, the town of Trinidad, CO has regularly cycled through identities, and economic raisons d’etre. The discovery of rich coal deposits in the rugged mountains along the Santa Fe trail between Denver and New Mexico meant the frontier village started as a mining town (and the way mining conglomerates worked meant Trinidad was also a company town). After the mines slowed and closed, between the 1960s and 2010, a single surgeon’s successful (and controversial) practice earned Trinidad the unofficial title of “sex-change capital of the US.” In the cannabis legalization era, another boom-and-bust cycle has come and gone in Trinidad: a cannabis “border town” that is no longer.


Home to about 8300 people, Trinidad saw dozens of cannabis shops open for business after adult-use cannabis sales began in Colorado in 2014. Along with businesses on the town’s main street, an entrepreneur from Denver sold local authorities on permitting the world’s first “marijuana mini mall.” There was so much weed for sale in Trinidad that the community boasted “one pot shop for every 300 people,” according to Amanda Korth, the board president of the Trinidad-Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce. 

This had nothing to do with Trinidad itself—they don’t smoke more weed there than they do in Pueblo—but everything to do with geography. About three hours’ drive from Santa Fe, Trinidad is the closest city in Colorado to New Mexico along Interstate-25. That meant Trinidad was an obvious destination for anyone in New Mexico wanting to buy legal weed—and anyone heading south wanting to make a final pit stop before entering dry country.

In Trinidad, the cannabis border-town boom lasted more than eight years. On April 1, legal cannabis sales began in New Mexico, with the full backing of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who encouraged New Mexico cannabis entrepreneurs to “knock the socks off of this industry” and—somehow—sell more cannabis per year than even Colorado, a more populous state. Cannabis isn’t as heavily taxed in New Mexico as it is in Colorado, and customers can purchase up to two ounces per day—twice Colorado’s one-ounce limit. And unlike California and Colorado, localities can’t opt-out of sales.

…And Bust

As NPR reported, from the beginning, cannabis dispensaries sprung up throughout the southern and eastern parts of the state, in small towns such as Clovis, in classic truck-stop cities such as Las Cruces—anywhere within driving distance of Texas, where cannabis is still illegal. 

The Las Cruces location of R. Greenleaf, a dispensary chain owned by Colorado-based Schwazze, is now the company’s “highest grossing store,” with visitors from Texas comprising about half of the customer base, said Justin Dye, Schwazze’s CEO, in a recent telephone interview. 

“We’re not there just for the border,” he added, but as data from the first half of the year published by BDS Analytics showed, sales have slowed and plateaued in Colorado overall as they boom in New Mexico. This spells trouble for border towns along the Colorado-New Mexico line—and the beginning of the end for Trinidad’s latest boom.

“You wouldn’t want to buy a store in Trinidad right now,” Dye said. “You wouldn’t want to be an operator there. It’s contracted substantially.” For now, Schwazze and Dye don’t have to worry: Most of their Colorado dispensaries are located in the Denver metro area. Sales are slowing there, too, but at least there’s no concern about out-of-state competition—or a tectonic shift in geography that, such as a factory closing or oil-well going dry, threatens a settlements’ economic vitality. 

This isn’t to say that there’s now nothing doing well in Trinidad—just that the “marijuana mini-mall” and the concentration of dispensaries may have outlived their moment.

Life in the New American West

For Korth, the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce president, this is just another cycle, along with mining, sex changes, and now cannabis. 

“Those industries left, and so it was boom or bust, feast or famine,” she said. “When the marijuana shops came in, it was a great big boom.” But, she added, offering a counterpoint to the boosterism from New Mexico’s Gov. Lujan Grisham, “they said a lot about the taxes and what the taxes would do for schools and roads, etc. And I haven’t really seen a lot of that.”

As for how long the border bet will last elsewhere, it’s a matter of time and politics—and the bizarre situation of rooting against the march of legalization in red states including Texas and Utah, the latter of which is within a short drive from Dinosaur, CO, on that state’s western edge. There are 183 people in Dinosaur, according to Census figures—and there are three dispensaries, an even higher ratio than Trinidad’s.

Dye thinks Texas will remain dry for a while. “I don’t see Texas having a major program for some time,” he said, a situation owing to the Lone Star State’s deep-red conservatism. “I think this is going to be something for a long time around border towns.” 

But there are rumblings to the contrary. Sid Miller, Texas’s ten-gallon-hat-wearing, Trump-supporting agriculture commissioner, recently became the state’s highest-ranking Republican to call for medical-cannabis legalization. If Texas moves even half as quickly as New Mexico, border towns in that state could find their time in the sun shorter even than Trinidad’s — but still part of the same predictable rhythm in the new American west.

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Texas Ag Commissioner Voices Support for Medical Pot Access

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller published an editorial on Friday calling for improved access to medical marijuana in the state, writing that state leaders should “lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas.”

In the letter, which Miller posted to the Texas Department of Agriculture’s official website, the commissioner noted that he advocated for the legalization of hemp in the state and is now responsible for regulating hundreds of hemp businesses. He wrote that he also supported the development of products for medical use including hemp oil, which are improving the lives of Texans everyday when other medicines have failed. Miller added that he would improve access to medical cannabis in the next year. In 2015, the state legalized the use of low-THC cannabis products as a treatment for epilepsy, adding additional qualifying medical conditions in 2019 and 2021.

“It is my goal next year to expand access to the compassionate use of cannabis products in Texas so that every Texan with a medical need has access to these medicines,” Miller wrote.

Cannabis Enforcement Mire in Bias

In his editorial, Miller noted that the history of cannabis prohibition and enforcement in the United States has been riddled with bias and values not consistent with professed American ideals. He also noted that cannabis policy decisions have often been made based on misinformation and emotion rather than reality and that the government should only make things illegal “for a powerful reason or set of facts.”

“As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable,” Miller wrote. “Today, in the 21st century, this must end. We must start with a new chapter and a new attitude about the use of cannabis – especially when it comes to its potential medicinal benefits.”

Miller, a Republican, noted in his message that 39 states “including politically conservative states such as Oklahoma, Utah and Florida” have passed measures to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. More than a dozen others “including conservative western states like Arizona, Montana and Alaska, have legalized commercial cannabis sales” for all adults aged 21 and older.

“While I am not sure that Texas is ready to go that far, I have seen firsthand the value of cannabis as medicine to so many Texans,” Miller wrote.

Mixed Messages from Texas Republicans

The Republican leadership in Texas has not expressed a consistent stance on cannabis policy. While campaigning for re-election in January, Governor Greg Abbot said that Texas prisons should be reserved “for dangerous criminals who may harm others.”

“Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” said Abbot.

But Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is one of the state’s most vocal cannabis opponents.

“The Lt. Governor has made it pretty explicitly clear that he is not on board for lessening the state’s drug laws around marijuana,” Joshua Blank, research director for the University of Texas Austin’s Texas Politics Project, said earlier this year. “But I think like any other public figure, if pressure continues to mount, especially within his own party, there’s no reason he can’t change his mind.”

Noting that four out of five Texans support the compassionate use of cannabis, Miller called on Abbot and the state’s lawmakers to increase access to medicinal cannabis during the next legislative session.

“It is time for all of us, including the Governor, members of the Texas Legislature and others to come together and set aside our political differences to have an honest conversation about cannabis: where we have been, where we are going and what role government should properly play,” Miller concluded. “We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas.”

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Texas Supreme Court Bans Smokable Hemp Production, Sales

Hemp was classified as an agricultural product when the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, but the Texas Supreme Court banned smokable hemp in 2019. This was challenged and overturned in August 2021 by the Travis County District Court, stating that it is unconstitutional to ban smokable hemp, and in December 2021, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In March 2022, the Supreme court case was held with the Texas Department of State Health Services (and its commissioner, John Hellerstedt) and four smokable hemp companies (Crown Distributing, America Juice Co., Custom Botanical Dispensary, and 1937 Apothecary).

However, on June 24, the Texas Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey S. Boyd wrote in his opinion that smokable hemp is still banned. “Considering the long history of the state’s extensive efforts to prohibit and regulate the production, possession, and use of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, we conclude that the manufacture and processing of smokable hemp products is neither a liberty interest nor a vested property interest the due-course clause protects,” Boyd wrote.

The Texas Constitution mentions the right “to engage in any of the common occupations of life” and “pursue a lawful calling, business or profession,” but in Boyd’s opinion, these rights don’t apply to hemp production. “It is enough to observe that the due-course clause, like its federal counterpart, has never been interpreted to protect a right to work in fields our society has long deemed ‘inherently vicious and harmful.’”

Dallas-based hemp company Wild Hemp was the primary funding behind this effort, but the legal battle has come to an end. The company’s CEO, Zain Meghani, spoke with Dallas Observer about the ruling and how it will affect local hemp companies.

“This ruling hurts the Texas hemp industry top to bottom,” Meghani said.

Chelsie Spencer, founding member of Ritter Spencer PLLC in Addison, Texas, represented the hemp companies. “The Texas Supreme Court has determined that the Texas Constitution does not protect the economic liberty interest of smokable hemp manufacturers and processors in the state of Texas,” Spencer said. “We are profoundly disappointed in this decision and disheartened by the continued stigma surrounding cannabis. It is telling when the Court insinuates that cannabis is ‘inherently vicious and harmful.’”

Furthermore, the effort has been defeated and according to Spencer, Wild Hemp isn’t willing to spend more money to fight it. “They funded this case entirely and are now being kicked out of their home state.”

According to Spencer, the state loses with this decision to maintain a ban on smokable hemp. “I would anticipate increased consumer costs for Texas products, simply because the state kicked them out this morning, and they all have to move now,” Spencer told the Dallas Observer. “Most telling, our economic expert found that the state will lose one million in tax revenue from Wild Hempettes alone by 2024 by kicking them out.”

Wild Hemp sells a wide variety of hemp goods, such as hemp wraps, CBD Cigarillos, tinctures, topicals, paper cones, and of course their Hempettes CBD Cigarettes. Each cigarette pack can contain up to 1,500mg of CBD and come in four flavors: Natural, Menthol, Pineapple Blaze, and Sweet.

Smokable hemp will continue to be banned for sale and production, but there are other cannabis-related efforts happening in Texas that could lead to decriminalization for consumers. But there are still opposing parties to recreational legalization, including the Texas State Republican Party, which recently issued numerous planks, or stances, on cannabis and hemp. The party endorsed decriminalization in 2018, but stances announced at the 2022 Texas State Republican Convention support classifying cannabis as a Schedule II substance, but also states that recreational marijuana should remain illegal.

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Texas Republican Party Policies Include Opposition to Cannabis Legalization

The 2022 Texas State Republican Convention was held last week between June 16-18 for the first time in-person since 2018. There, the party voted to establish 275 platform planks, or principal policies of the Republican party, to address a multitude of agenda topics.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke posted on Twitter some of the “extreme agenda” among these planks as: “abolish abortion, defund public schools, take away health care, repeal gun laws, deny voting rights, reject marijuana legalization.”

The Report of the Permanent 2022 Platform & Resolutions Committee policy list briefly addresses cannabis, marijuana, hemp and synthetic drugs.

It only mentions cannabis once, which is described as “Cannabis Classification: Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and move to Schedule 2.”

However, it also uses the term marijuana as well. “Marijuana Remains Illegal: Oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana and offer opportunities for drug treatment before penalties for its illegal possession, use, or distribution.”

Finally, it briefly refers to hemp. “Reduce Business Regulations: We believe that the following businesses should be minimally regulated at all levels,” which among a list of 14 laws in question, it states “Use of hemp as an agricultural commodity.”

The party will still need to formally tally and approve these planks. Until then, it is uncertain if the planks will become officially recognized.

In 2018, the Texas Republican Party endorsed cannabis decriminalization, and also called for a change to the herb’s federal classification of Schedule I.

Earlier this year in January, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stated his support for cannabis reform with decriminalization. “Marijuana is now a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas, and so one thing that I believe in—and I believe the state legislature believes in—and that is prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” said Abbott. “So, we have been making steps in that regard.” However, his statement was incorrect in referencing the current law, with low-level cannabis possession still being a Class B misdemeanor and can lead to up to six months in jail.

A recent poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News and The University of Texas at Tyler, Texas voters from all political parties want to see medical cannabis legalization. According to the poll results released in May, 91% of Democrats, 81% of Independents and 74% of Republicans reported support. The same question asked participants about their support or opposition on adult-use cannabis, but were not as strong as opinions on medical cannabis (76% of Democrats, 64% of Independents and 42% of Republicans respectively).

Meanwhile, cannabis advocates are proceeding along toward decriminalization on the ballot. So far, the cities of Harker Heights, Killeen, San Marcos, and Denton all have working ballot initiatives, and recently a decriminalization and no-knock warrant initiative called Prop A in Austin was approved by voters on May 7. These efforts were driven by Ground Game Texas. “Following the success of Prop A in Austin and the recent securing of ballot initiatives in Killeen and San Marcos, Ground Game Texas is proud to give Harker Heights residents the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana,” said Ground Game Texas’s Executive Director Julie Oliver in a press release. “Ground Game Texas continues to demonstrate that popular policies around issues like workers, wages, and weed can help expand and electrify the electorate in Texas when they’re put directly in front of voters.”

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Five Texas Cities to Vote on Decriminalization This Year

This could be a big year for Texas, as there are currently five different decriminalization measures on November ballots from five different cities. It appears that, even though progress is happening slowly, this will be a big year for decriminalization across the super-sized state. 

Last week, activists in Harker Heights with the progressive group Ground Game Texas announced that they have collected enough signatures for a decriminalization measure on their local ballot, making them the fifth city to do so in Texas thus far. All of these cities will be following in the footsteps of Austin, a city that has successfully passed decriminalization. 

In order to be on the ballot in Harker Heights, advocates needed signatures from more than 25% of registered voters, and they exceeded their goal.

“Following the success of Prop A in Austin and the recent securing of ballot initiatives in Killeen and San Marcos, Ground Game Texas is proud to give Harker Heights residents the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana,” Julie Oliver, the organization’s executive director, claimed, according to a press release. “Ground Game Texas continues to demonstrate that popular policies around issues like workers, wages, and weed can help expand and electrify the electorate in Texas when they’re put directly in front of voters.”

The goal with the Harker Heights Freedom Act is to ensure that “police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses,” except in certain circumstances such as a violent felony or a felony-level narcotics case that has been “designated as a high priority investigation” by the police. In other words, the goal is to only focus on high-level drug trafficking, not regular folks using cannabis.

If this measure passes, it would also ensure that police can’t give out citations to folks who simply have resonated or otherwise used paraphernalia. This will keep the system clear of those who either have small amounts of cannabis or simply a used pipe. 

In order for this measure to become a reality, city officials will still need to formally authorize the signatures and ensure they are all valid before the measure makes it onto the ballot. This initiative is just one in a broader effort to enact cannabis policy reform one city at a time, since currently in Texas, there is no process to add this to the ballot statewide. 

In the past, Austin proved that this process can work when the city approved a ballot measure to decriminalize cannabis. It also banned no-knock warrants by police in general, all thanks to the work from Ground Game Texas. 

The group also works with Mano Amiga, a criminal justice reform group committed to freeing cannabis customers. They worked with them to make sure there were more than enough signatures to get decriminalization on the ballot in San Marcos as well, continuing the reform sweep across the state. 

Also, in May, Ground Game Texas reported that activists got enough signatures to put decriminalization on the ballot for Killeen too. Similarly, activists have collected enough signatures in Denton as well, and once they are verified, hope to also get that added to the ballot. Lastly, signature collectors have also collected enough signatures in Elgin. 

In each of these cities, local officials on city councils are also able to enact these proposals as municipal law instead of ballot measures, meaning legalization could spread even faster.

As Texas continues to take on decriminalization the slow way, one city at a time, hearts and minds are changing and the overall conversation of legalization is getting closer to become a reality nationwide. 

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Local Texas Advocacy Group Collects Signatures for Decriminalization Initiative

Ground Game Texas held a press event on May 25, announcing that the group has collected enough signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. Only 1,000 valid signatures were necessary, but the group collected over 2,400 signatures for submission.

Ground Game Texas was founded in 2021 and seeks to organize and educate Texas communities to fight for issues such as increased minimum wages, Medicaid expansion plans, and cannabis legalization, to name a few. A part of their mission is to consistently inform voters of these issues year-round, and to avoid taking “off-years.”

Executive Director and Co-founder of Ground Game Texas, Julie Oliver, released a statement about the initiative, which is called the Killeen Freedom Act of 2022. “In a quickly growing and thriving community like Killeen, there’s no excuse for the continued over-policing and incarceration of community members for marijuana use,” Oliver said. “On the heels of voters approving our similar initiative in Austin last week, we’re proud to give Killeen voters the same opportunity to end enforcement of marijuana offenses–which disproportionally hurts diverse communities like Killeen.” If passed, this particular initiative would decriminalize cannabis in Killeen, a central Texas town located north of Austin, which no longer allows police to issue class A or class B misdemeanors for cannabis possession.

On May 9, the organization shared that voters in Austin passed Proposition A (also called the Austin Freedom Act) with 85.80% “yes” vote, which decriminalizes cannabis and also prohibits no-knock warrants. “I want to stress that this *would not have happened* if volunteers working in an ‘off year’ hadn’t grabbed clipboards and hit the pavement to gather the 20,000 signatures it took to put this up for a vote,” Oliver stated about the organization’s constant advocacy, according to the Austin Chronicle.

Ground Game Texas is also targeting other local cities of Harker Heights, San Marcos, and Denton for cannabis decriminalization measures as well, with a total of 10 ballot campaigns that the organization is working on.

A new Texas poll, as reported by The Dallas Morning News in May, states that 83% of Texans want to legalize medical cannabis and 60% want to legalize adult-use consumption. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has previously announced his support of reducing penalties for possession, but not legalization. “Marijuana is now a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas and so one thing that that I believe in—and I believe the state legislature believes in—and that is prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” Abbott said in January.

Last June, Abbott signed House Bill 1535 to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, which went into effect in September 2021. Now, patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or all types of cancer can seek relief through the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The program already included qualifying conditions such as intractable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, and seizure disorders.

However, medical cannabis advocates shared their disappointment in the state’s limitations. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, expressed the need for more support. “While we are glad to see the Compassionate Use Program being expanded, it’s disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states, like Alabama, for example, are moving forward with real medical cannabis programs,” said Fazio. “It’s doing so little, and we wish [lawmakers] were doing more.”

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Austin Voters Approve Measure to Decriminalize Pot

Voters in Austin, Texas over the weekend approved a ballot proposition that decriminalized cannabis and prohibited the practice of “no-knock warrants” by police. 

A little more than 85% of voters on Saturday approved Proposition A, according to local television station KXAN, which said that the measure will “formalize a city policy put in place in 2020, when then-police chief Brian Manley announced his officers would no longer cite or arrest those accused of misdemeanor pot offenses.” That change in policy came as a result of a unanimous vote by the Austin City Council at the time, KXAN reported. 

Per local TV station KVUE, the measure does not legalize cannabis in Austin, but “ultimately forbids police officers from ticketing and arresting people on low-level marijuana offenses, like possession of small amounts of weed or related paraphernalia, unless tied to a more severe crime.” Additionally, the city “would also not pay to test substances suspected to be marijuana, which is an important step in substantiating drug charges,” according to the station. 

Under the newly passed ordinance, cops in Austin “will not be allowed to issue citations for most Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession offenses,” according to KVUE.

“In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is possession of 4 ounces or less but more than 2 ounces. A Class B misdemeanor is possession of 2 ounces or less,” according to the station, which said the ordinance takes effect immediately. 

The ordinance, as written, says that Austin police officers will only be permitted to issue citations or make arrests for such Class A or B misdemeanors if it is part of “the investigation of a felony level narcotics case that has been designated as a high priority investigation by an Austin police commander, assistant chief of police, or chief of police,” or if it is part of an investigation of a violent felony.

The new local ordinance is the result of efforts by a group called Ground Game Texas, which led the campaign to get Proposition A on the Austin ballot this year. 

In January, the Austin City Council approved the ballot proposal for the city’s special election that was held on May 7. 

Ground Game Texas collected more than 33,000 signatures––well above the necessary threshold of 20,000 signatures––from Austin voters in order for the measure to qualify for the special election ballot. 

The group celebrated Saturday’s resounding victory, saying that it serves as evidence that voters in the Lone Star State are ready for cannabis reform.

“This lays down an extremely clear marker for the rest of Texas that one, this is something that’s possible. That a city can decide to end marijuana enforcement,” said Ground Game Texas co-founder Mike Siegel, as quoted by Texas public radio station KUT. “And two, that it’s extremely popular.”

The station reported that Ground Game Texas is currently “working on similar ballot items in other Central Texas cities, including San Marcos and Elgin.”

Medical cannabis is legal in Texas, but recreational pot use for adults is not. 

Last year, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that expanded the number of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment in the state.

Abbott is up for re-election this year, and there are signs that cannabis legalization could emerge as a major issue in the campaign. The incumbent’s Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, has repeatedly voiced his support for ending the prohibition on pot throughout the race.

“Legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do. We can stop locking Texans up for a substance that’s legal in much of the rest of the country and allow police to focus on violent crime. And it’ll bring in nearly $1 billion a year in new state revenue and taxpayer savings,” O’Rourke said on Twitter in January.

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City of Houston Bans E-Cigarettes, Vaping in Public Spaces

Vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes is now banned in public spaces throughout the city of Houston, after the city council unanimously approved an amendment to its existing ordinance on Wednesday.

According to Houston Public Media, the city’s “existing rules prohibit smoking in an enclosed public space or workplace, within 25 feet of a building entrance or exit, outdoor arenas and public transit stops,” and now “those rules are extended to electronic smoking devices, which include electronic cigarettes and cigars, vapes and any other device that uses vapors or aerosol liquids.”

The change was originally “proposed last year by the Houston Health Department in response to a growing scientific consensus on the dangers of vaping,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Now, they are officially in effect. 

The newspaper reported that the approved amendment “adds all types of e-cigarette devices—vape pens, electronic pipes and hookahs, among others—to the smoking ban, which bars cigarettes from enclosed public places and seating areas and within 25 feet of any building.” Those new rules took effect immediately following the vote on Wednesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. They do not apply to hookah bars or other spots where smoking is already legally permitted.

The city council heard testimonials from various individuals who sounded the alarm on the dangers of vaping, which is often billed as a safer alternative to cigarettes despite a paucity of evidence to support the assertion that it is in fact safer. 

Houston Public Media reported that during a public comment session before the council on Tuesday, “Dr. Lindy McGee, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said she was concerned about the rise in vaping among her patients. She believed electronic cigarette companies are intentionally marketing to teens.”

“Using social media, youth-enticing flavors and highly addictive nicotine, they hooked this new generation on their product,” McGee said, as quoted by the outlet.

The Houston Chronicle said that members of the city council “touted the public health benefit of regulating e-cigarettes, which are filled with a liquid nicotine derived from tobacco that becomes an aerosol when the user inhales.

“Ultra-fine particles emitted by the vapor and toxins from the devices’ heating elements can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, federal studies suggest, even when nicotine-free vape liquid is used,” the Chronicle reported.

The use of electronic cigarette devices has exploded in recent years, particularly among young people. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released findings from the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS).

The survey found that “e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product” last year among high school and middle school students in the United States.

“E-cigarettes were the most commonly currently used tobacco product, cited by 2.06 million (7.6%) middle and high school students, followed by cigarettes (410,000; 1.5%), cigars (380,000; 1.4%), smokeless tobacco (240,000; 0.9%), hookahs (220,000; 0.8%) and nicotine pouches (200,000; 0.8%),” according to the survey.

Among students who reported using a tobacco product in the last 30 days, 39.4% said they used e-cigarettes compared with 18.9% for cigarettes and 20.7% for cigars.

“Among all students, perceiving ‘no’ or ‘little’ harm from intermittent tobacco product use was highest for e-cigarettes (16.6%) and lowest for cigarettes (9.6%),” according to the survey’s accompanying analysis. 

Nearly 58% of those who used e-cigarettes said they first tried it because a friend used a product and that piqued their interest.

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Congressman Working To Secure Release of Brittney Griner From Russia

A Democratic congressman said this week that he has been in touch with the State Department regarding Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia for nearly a month over drug charges.

Representative Colin Allred of Texas said Wednesday that he has been trying to get to the bottom of Griner’s detention, which has emerged as a strange subplot in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. 

“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”

Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on February 17 after officials there found cannabis vape cartridges in her possession. The charge carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years.

In an announcement, the Russian Federal Customs Service did not identify Griner by name but said that it had detained a U.S. women’s basketball player who had won two Olympic gold medals. It also released a video of a woman who meets Griner’s description going through airport security. Russian authorities confirmed that the country detained Griner last weekend.

“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the WNBA and NBA,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said after the announcement last weekend. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

“The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning,” he added.

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Allred played football at Baylor University, the same school where the six-foot-nine Griner starred as a member of the women’s basketball team.

“Of course for me, there is a Baylor connection,” Allred said, as quoted by ESPN. “And also being on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and having recently visited Ukraine and being intimately involved with our response to the Russian aggression there. But also the fact that Brittney is a high-profile LGBTQ advocate and icon in many ways.”

Allred noted that it isn’t the first time an American has been imprisoned by Russian authorities. But Griner, one of the best women’s basketball players to ever play the game, is easily one of the most high-profile individuals to find herself in such a situation. She has played all nine seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, making seven all-star teams and winning a title in 2014. 

Since 2014, Griner, like many American women’s basketball players, has played in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason.

The timing is also striking, with Russia-U.S. relations deteriorating amid the former’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“So this is not the first time in recent years that an American has been detained and then held either without reason or without a sufficient kind of explanation,” Allred said, as quoted by ESPN. “What’s obviously different here is that Brittney is an extremely high-profile athlete, and it’s happening during the course of a Russian-begun war in Ukraine, in which we are deeply opposed to what they’re doing.”

“This would normally be run through our embassy or consular services in the country,” he added. “It’s also true that we’re drawing down some of our embassy personnel in Moscow and the State Department has asked all Americans in Russian to leave. But I don’t think that’s going to impact the ability for them to advocate on her behalf.”

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