For years I’ve heard people say that Wyoming lawmakers will never legalize marijuana, and if they do, we’ll be the last state to go down that path.
I generally agreed because voters who say they want the government to stay out of their lives continue to vote for lawmakers who want to do the opposite. They pass laws that restrict women’s reproductive freedom, promote anti-LGBTQ laws, and work diligently to restrict people’s right to vote.
To think that much of this group would let Wyomingites smoke a joint in the privacy of their homes seems like a fantasy. A “devil’s herb” mentality has ruled the legislature for as long as I can remember.
Legislators have sponsored bills to decriminalize cannabis possession or allow medical marijuana, but they are always shot down with overwhelming profit margins.
That year the House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 209 regulation of marijuana with 6-3 votes.
The main sponsor, House Majority Whip Jared Olsen, is a Cheyenne attorney who leads a group of strange political bedfellows made up of moderate Republicans, progressive Democrats, the lonely libertarian and GOP conservatives of the body with libertarian leanings. Together they know unfair drug laws when they see them, and the equality state has some of the toughest laws on the books.
Wyoming is one of only six states that completely ban marijuana. Possession of any amount up to 3 ounces – even residue in a pipe – is an offense that can result in up to a year in prison and / or a fine of up to $ 1,000.
Here are eight reasons now is the time to pass an enlightened marijuana law:
1. Public perception. A survey by the University of Wyoming’s Survey Analysis Center in December found that 54% of Wyoming residents allow adult assistance to legally possess marijuana for personal use. Meanwhile, 85% supported medical marijuana.
2. New income. Wyoming hurts to balance the state budget. The Treasury Department estimates that state and local governments could make up to $ 50 million a year with a 30% excise tax on marijuana retail sales.
3. Reform of the criminal justice system. It does not make economic sense to continue to detain people for nonviolent drug offenses. An information sheet sent by the Corrections Department to lawmakers did not provide information on whether individuals convicted of marijuana possession had committed other drug offenses. But 335 Wyoming inmates are now jailed for a pot, and each inmate costs about $ 42,340 a year. Another 2,501 are monitored, which costs US $ 2,125 per perpetrator per year. Add them up and it’s nearly $ 20 million.
4. Reasonable Limits. According to the bill, adults over 21 can have up to 3 ounces of flowers, 16 ounces of edible cannabis product, 72 ounces of liquid product, and up to 30 grams of concentrate. Adults would also have the legal option of growing up to a dozen flowering female plants at home that could produce up to 16 ounces of cannabis.
5. Humanitarian concerns. One reason public support for medical marijuana is so strong is because people understand that cannabis relieves pain and improves the quality of life for patients with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, migraines, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other conditions . Legislators can have family members or friends who have benefited from marijuana use, and this can affect their votes.
6. Alternatives to other drugs. Addiction and overuse of prescription drugs, especially opioids, are a common problem. In 2018, Wyoming had 40 deaths from drug overdose with opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
7. Public pressure. Four of the nine members of the House Judiciary Committee signed up with HB 209 so only one was required to get approval. Two swing voters said while they could ultimately vote no to the bill, a strong public reaction on both sides of the issue convinced them to support bringing it to the floor of the house.
8. Towards a referendum. Many lawmakers are brimming with the idea that voters will take it upon themselves to pass laws. This is one of the reasons the state is among the strictest in the country when it comes to public access to electoral initiatives. Colorado, Utah, Montana and South Dakota have embarked on the referendum route on some form of legalization. While it can be expensive to get enough signatures from registered voters to drive an election initiative, it is not necessarily prohibitive for a group with deep pockets.
I find it hard to understand why so many Wyoming lawmakers still believe we are living in the age of reefer madness, where marijuana corrupts our youth and destroys the moral values of society.
I’m a baby boomer and don’t know many people of my generation who haven’t at least tried marijuana. I can’t imagine lawmakers my age, even the most conservative, having all had bad experiences.
People don’t belong in jail for using a plant that has been around for thousands of years and that benefits people with myriad health problems. If you believe Wyoming is an independent state that lives and is alive, please tell your senator or representative that simply talking about marijuana laws and kicking the can again won’t hurt this year.
It is time for them to take a leadership role on this matter or get out of the way.
The Drake’s Take is a weekly column by veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake and is produced by WyoFile.com, a non-profit news organization focused on the people, places, and policies of Wyoming.