50 States

50 States: Wyoming Is Warming Up to Cannabis

By Jon Young

50 States: Wyoming Is Warming Up to Cannabis

Medical: CBD oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

October 25, 2018: A new poll found that 49 percent of the state now favors cannabis legalization, up eight points from 2016. Likewise, support for medical cannabis has reached 86 percent, while 69 percent do not think individuals should go to jail for possessing small amounts of cannabis. To no one's surprise, Wyoming residents ages 18 to 24 expressed the highest level of support for full legalization (63 percent), while those ages 75 and older overwhelmingly support prohibition (81 percent). These findings reinforce the idea that legalization has become a bipartisan issue. Wyoming, after all, voted for Trump by the largest margin (56 points) of any state in the 2016 election. 

July 16, 2018: Per the local paper, city workers in the northern town of Powell discovered that cannabis has been growing in its community potted plants, including one close to the police station. Apparently the seeds were planted some time ago, and city officials unknowingly cared for them, but the iconic leaves finally grew to a size that the Parks & Rec workers would recognize. The first two plants were discovered on June 29 and brought to the police, and more have been found since. The police chief attributed the seeding to someone playing a joke, and apparently the police then played a joke on the Parks & Rec workers by saying they could arrest them for possession. Hilarious. Drug war comedy aside, the so-called "pranksters" who planted the seeds actually provided a blueprint for anti-prohibition protest across the country. Bonus points for anyone who can pull off planting seeds at Jeff Sessions' house in Alabama. 

What's Past Is Prologue

In July 2015, Wyoming passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Robert McKim allowing for the limited use of CBD oil (non-psychoactive cannabidiol extract) for those with intractable epilepsy. The law is so limited in scope that the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) does not even consider Wyoming a medical marijuana (MMJ) state. For those who need it, there is no provision on how to obtain the CBD oil, and those with one of more than 1,200 approved conditions in other MMJ states are left uncovered.

“There are 1,264 different ailments covered under different medical marijuana petitions in other states,” said Marcia Stuelpnagel, of Wyoming Cannabis Activists. “All we do is keep pushing forward and trying to get them to change their minds.”

According to a University of Wyoming poll in October, 81 percent of Wyomingites support the legalization of doctor-prescribed MMJ (up for 74 percent in 2014), while 41 percent support recreational (up for 37 percent). Likewise, 72 percent thought that a person should not go to jail for possessing small amounts of cannabis. 

While support for MMJ is high, the stringent process for ballot initiatives makes it difficult to gather the requisite number of signatures to place the issue before voters. An effort started in 2015 to get MMJ on the 2018 ballot failed to collect and deliver enough petitions by its February 2017 deadline, which means the initiative will not be on next year's ballot. 

A report from the Governor’s Marijuana Impact Assessment also raises concerns that a broader MMJ program would not make enough money for the government to cover costs.

“Based on the assumptions made, the revenue generated from licensing and sales will not be sufficient to pay for the administration of the program,” the report stated. “It is certainly possible to adjust the licensing fees to cover the administration. It is also important to note that if more dispensaries and cultivation facilities are licensed, more revenue could be generated from licensing.”

While more attempts at legalizing broader MMJ laws are projected for the future, a 2014 poll found that 60 percent of Wyomingites are opposed to recreational use in any form, and attempts at decriminalization have also failed. In fact, recent initiatives would have increased penalties for those caught with edible cannabis products based on weight, with anything over three ounces considered a felony. The bill failed after lawmakers debated on how to measure the concentration of cannabis mixed with other ingredients.

Currently, anyone caught under the influence of cannabis faces a misdemeanor and up to six months in jail and a $750 fine. Those caught in possession of three ounces or less could face up to 12 months in jail and a $1000 fine, while those caught with more than three ounces face felony charges, up to $10,000 in fines and up to a half decade in prison. The harsh drug laws suggest that Cheney wasn’t the only Dick in Wyoming politics.

Wyoming is also struggling with how to deal with its more liberal southern neighbor of Colorado, and the fact that University of Wyoming students need only drive 25 miles south to get legal cannabis. Law enforcement reports an increase in cannabis-related arrests, though the data is minimal, at best, and largely anecdotal.

“We believe that at least (124) of them are coming from Colorado sources,” said Laramie Police Department Cmdr. Mitch Cushman. “It’s easy to buy in Colorado because it’s legal there now, and all you have to do is transport it up here. But here, it’s illegal to buy and sell, obviously, so why risk it here when you can go buy it legal there and just try to smuggle it back? That’s what we’re seeing.”

While Wyoming law enforcement continues to fight against the threat of loosening cannabis laws, some feel Wyoming residents would be better served by doing just that.

“We pass criminal laws to protect society from harm,” said Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie). “It’s pretty clear that the biggest harm that young adults are exposed to comes from the (marijuana) law itself.”

Photo credit: Unsplash.



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