Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently sued Killeen along with four other cities over marijuana decriminalization laws.
Ground Game Texas, an Austin-based progressive organization, has been the vanguard over efforts to put this on the ballots in various cities since at least 2021.
In Killeen, some elected leaders said they had no choice but to enact the law after voters approved it in November 2022. The law was known as Proposition A on the ballot that year.
“As an elected official my highest duty is to listen to the majority will of the people and to strive to carry out said will to the best of my ability,” Killeen Councilman Ramon Alvarez said last year on the issue.
Others, including leaders in Harker Heights, say that city governments can’t pass a local law that is in violation of state law, even if that local law gets voter approval.
Harker Heights officials, who are facing their own marijuana lawsuit filed by Ground Game, say the local ordinance is “unconstitutional, void, contrary to Texas law and unenforceable and invalid.”
Here is a look at important milestones that led to Killeen’s decriminalized marijuana law and beyond:
May 7, 2021: Ground Game successfully puts marijuana decriminalization on ballot in Austin.
Dec 31. 2021: The Herald reports that Ground Game Texas is organizing a meeting about marijuana decriminalization at an after-school facility in Killeen. Former Killeen Councilwoman Shirley Fleming and local Democrat Louie Minor, a Killeen businessman who was later elected as a Bell County commissioner, are heavily involved in the process.
Jan. 3. 2022: Then-Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble sends out a news release saying he won’t attend a marijuana decriminalization meeting.
Jan. 14 2022: Democrats including Ground Game Executive Director Julie Oliver hold press conference with other Democrats including Minor and Fleming, and begin circulating a petition for marijuana decriminalization in Killeen and Harker Heights.
April 16, 2022: State Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, gives speech at Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana at Killeen Civic and Conference Center. Buckley said he changed his mind about the status of medical marijuana but caused mumbling when he came out against it for recreational purposes.
May 12, 2022: After an effort led by Ground Game, Austin voters successfully decriminalize marijuana in the Texas Capital.
May 24, 2022: Decriminalization advocates announce they successfully reach the 2,500 petition threshold for putting the issue on the Killeen ballot later that year. Some of the signatories include Fleming and Minor and three Killeen City Council members: Ramon Alvarez, Riakos Adams and Ken Wilkerson. Later in the year, Wilkerson told the Herald that he signed the petition as a “citizen” and not as a council member. “That’s all you can sign it as, as a citizen,” Wilkerson said, “If it goes to the ballot, I’m not opposed to that.” When asked if it would go against the oath that council members need to uphold the state laws and constitution, Wilkerson quickly responded: “How are you supposed to change state laws and the constitution then?”
Other notable names on the petition include Killeen NAACP President Taneika Driver-Moultrie and Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 Board Member Sandra Blankenship.
May 25, 2022: Ground Game Texas delivers petition to Killeen City Hall.
July 19, 2022: The decriminalization petition is discussed by Minor and other residents at the Killeen City Council, many critical of the City Council’s apparent unwillingness to have a public hearing on the petition.
July 22, 2022: Released Killeen Police Department data shows 80% of marijuana arrests disproportionately affect Blacks.
July 26, 2022: The Killeen City Council holds a public hearing on the marijuana decriminalization petition from Ground Game Texas. The City Council votes down the ordinance which in effect places it on the November ballot.
July 29, 2022: The Harker Heights City Council votes down the ordinance decriminalizing marijuana and orders it to appear on the November 2022 ballot.
Oct. 22, 2022: Forum held in Killeen to debate marijuana decriminalization. “Marijuana is not the bogeyman in the room,” then Councilman Ken Wilkerson said. Chris Pray, a then candidate for Bell County Commissioners Court said the ordinance “is not about medical marijuana use,” and that proponents of the ordinance are “using” the Killeen public.
Nov. 8, 2022: Killeen and Harker Heights voters approve Proposition A, decriminalizing marijuana, by 69% and 64% respectively.
Nov. 13, 2022: Police Chief Charles Kimble announces no misdemeanor arrests will be made for marijuana after proposition A passes.
Nov. 25, 2022: Harker Heights Council votes to repeal the marijuana decriminalization law in that city by a 4-1 vote.
Dec 6. 2022: Killeen council votes 4-3 to remove a clause preventing KPD from using odor of marijuana as probable cause for search, and makes the remaining ordinance an official city law.
Dec. 8, 2022: The Herald reports Ground Game Texas is preparing to hold a referendum on the Harker Heights decision to repeal the marijuana decriminalization ordinance.
Dec. 12, 2022: Harker Heights receives a necessary number of petition signatures to reverse the repealing of the marijuana decriminalization ordinance.
Dec. 25, 2022: The Herald reports that Bell County District Attorney Henry Gaza says lawsuit is necessary to settle debate on marijuana decriminalization in Killeen.
Jan 10, 2023: Harker Heights City Council rejects referendum petition by 4-1 vote.
March 5, 2023: The Herald reports that despite new law, marijuana misdemeanor continues to pop up on police blotter.
April 12, 2023: Bell County files lawsuit against Killeen over Proposition A.
May 15, 2023: First court hearing is held in Bell County vs. the city of Killeen.
June 20, 2023: The Herald reports that city documents show defending the lawsuit will cost more than $50,000.
June 27, 2023: The Killeen City Council votes to cap attorney fees for defense of the lawsuit filed by Bell County at $100,000. Councilman Joseph Solomon, who has always been in opposition to Proposition A, is the sole dissenting vote.
Dec. 5, 2023: Ground Game Texas sues Harker Heights for refusing to create ordinance that voters approved in a referendum.
Jan 31, 2024: Attorney General Ken Paxton sues Killeen and four other Texas cities who passed a referendum on marijuana decriminalization.