Marijuana legalization in San Marcos, Texas

By Hannah Glasgow

The I-35 college town of San Marcos, Texas has been at the forefront of marijuana legalization in Texas for decades with its longstanding hippie and activist culture. The city was the first in Texas to implement a cite-and-release ordinance.

The I-35 highway corridor is the stretch of highway between the major cities of Austin and San Antonio, Texas. It is known as one of the major highways for drug trafficking in the United States according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. The highway runs through the middle of the small college town of San Marcos which is centered around Texas State University, home to 35,000 students where student and hippie culture collide.

Over a nine-day stretch in 1991, the “San Marcos Seven” made national headlines when a series of nine demonstrators smoked a joint in the San Marcos police station as an act of civil disobedience. Seven of the demonstrators were arrested. A New York Times article described the relationship between police and demonstrators as civil. Sheriff Paul Hastings of the San Marcos Police Department said to the New York Times at the time, “They are just old hippies going through a change of life.” As if to acknowledge that, the same 1991 New York Times article describing the arrests called San Marcos, “a friendly town of 35,000 people 30 miles south of Austin that retains a small, vocal camp of residents who pride themselves on dwelling largely in the ‘60s.”

Although the population has grown to 66,000 residents by 2021 the hippy culture of the ‘60s seems to live on. In 2017, San Marcos was named the most hippie town in Texas by Texas Hill Country Magazine calling San Marcos, “a hippie-academic confluence of Austin, albeit on a smaller scale.”

San Marcos resident Nicolas Lorant, 21, said, “We call the people who stayed in San Marcos after college river rats because of the famous river and the calm attitude of the town made them never want to leave. The people who stay can become locally famous like Bubble believer, Sun God, and Frisbee Dan.”

In past decades, San Marcos was primarily a white-dominated population; however, with the growing popularity of Texas State University, the town transformed into a minority-majority dominant population. The university’s student population makes San Marcos a city known for its nightlife and for the many active community activism organizations that are based in San Marcos like, Mano Amiga– “a friend’s hand.”

Mano Amiga was established in 2017 to protect immigrants and minorities in small-town and rural communities along the I-35 corridor from low-level crimes. Research studies published by the organization found that marijuana convictions predominantly affected minorities, primarily black individuals. The Vera Institute of Justice – a New York nonprofit focused on the overcriminalization of people of color – announced a collaboration with Mano Amiga at a news conference on September 10. Vera Institute pledged to promote and help fund the work of Mano Amiga. This is part of Vera Institute’s larger effort, In Our Backyards initiative, to fund local efforts to reduce incarceration among people of color. This comes after Mano Amiga’s recent victory with the implementation of the Cite-and-Release ordinance in San Marcos, TX after a year of persuading officials.

Jordan Buckley of Mano Amiga in a statement to the Vera Insitute of Justice said, “Mano Amiga will devote In Our Backyards funding toward expanding our recent victory –– the first Cite & Release Ordinance in Texas, restricting law enforcement by City law from arresting for numerous petty offenses –– into other parts of the Lone Star State, by coordinating with activists & policymakers in pursuit of this goal.”

San Marcos was the first city in Texas to implement a Cite-and Release Ordinance in 2017. Due to overcrowding in jails, pressure by activist groups, and a lack of police resources, the San Marcos City Council passed the ordinance in a 4-3 vote.

Police Chief of San Marcos, Stan Standridge, said, “Legalizing marijuana in Texas is a huge uphill fight, that has been fought with every legislative signing. So what they are doing is trying to decriminalize it. In other words, instead of arresting you, we issue a citation. However, marijuana is as pervasive now as it has ever been. I was here for seven days and a Texas State student was shot to death over marijuana, a robbery turned bad. Once it was implemented I think it was a very good ordinance and the reason being is we haven’t added a single sworn officer to this city since 2016, so there as I said there’s a lot of crime, but they haven’t added cops. So the city has grown and the population has grown, but they haven’t added cops. It needed to happen regardless because it’s an efficient use of resources. If you take time to arrest everyone on The Square with a marijuana joint you are losing cops left and right. It takes typically 90 minutes to process someone compared to a citation.”

A recent study of the effectiveness of the city ordinance was found to be inconclusive due to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. For perspective, in 2018, the San Marcos police department encountered 330 cases of people illegally possessing marijuana, according to a Hays County report in September 2019. Of those, only 20 were cited and released; all were white or white Hispanic. The rest – 310 people – were arrested, disproportionately representing Black and Hispanic individuals.

Outreach Specialist for Mano Amiga, Sam Benavides, 22, said, “The San Marcos Police Department before the ordinance 2018, they didn’t issue a citation to a single black person out of the 72 instances in which they were all eligible. Everyone single one of them was arrested. It was clear that we needed an ordinance, so it was clear to use it on everyone and not just people who look like them.”

This isn’t the first time where police allegedly had a problem carrying out drug enforcement. Rusty Windle, 25, a San Marcos resident, was shot by police when they raided his residence for marijuana possession on May 24, 1999. Yet, there are conflicting reports between police and witnesses about whether police announced themselves on the scene and whether Windle’s gun was loaded. According to HuffPost, police found less than an ounce on the premises which isn’t enough for arrest.

Marijuana legalization would add millions of dollars in tax revenue and would lessen the number of people in prison for low-level non-violent drug charges. In addition, a majority of Texans are in favor of marijuana legalization.

Delta-8, a THC alternative, has become very popular for smokers as it has been legalized in Texas. However, in October it was temporarily banned, forcing sellers of Delta-8 to remove it off their shelves. Yet, a judge blocked the ban letting businesses reorder and sell Delta-8 until it’s trial in the coming year.

Goodblends, a medical marijuana company, is building a $25 million, 63,000 square-foot new facility along the I-35 corridor. It will be a state-licensed dispensary that operates under The Texas Compassionate Use program that started in 2015 allowing low-THC products for patients with epilepsy, autism, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. All medical marijuana facilities or professionals are located along the I-35 highway corridor.

Being the forerunner of marijuana legalization in the state brings hope for marijuana users in rural communities and small cities that can follow San Marcos’ lead.

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