Wyoming is behind national trend of legal medical marijuana

SHERIDAN — Wyoming is becoming an island amid a sea of states that have legalized marijuana in some capacity.

 

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but 21 states have legalized recreational marijuana use and 37 states have legalized medicinal marijuana in some capacity.

 

Among Wyoming’s neighbor states, Montana and Colorado have legalized recreational and medicinal use for marijuana. South Dakota and Utah have legalized medical marijuana and Nebraska has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

 

Sheridan Police Department Capt. Tom Ringley said there hasn’t been a significant increase in marijuana-related arrests since Montana legalized recreational use, which could be due in part to a small sample size. Ringley also said little would change for SPD should Wyoming legalize any use of marijuana.

 

“It wouldn’t have any impact in the sense that we enforce all laws and we don’t enforce laws that don’t exist,” Ringley said. “A concern of ours is always impaired driving. So, if marijuana is easier to get, there is the potential that it could lead to an increase of arrests and property destruction via impaired driving.”

 

Wyoming is one of 10 states to have no reform to laws related to marijuana use or possession; Idaho is the only neighboring state to also have no statutory reform.

 

Several attempts to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize the substance in Wyoming have died before being considered by the chamber of origin in the Wyoming Legislature.

 

The first attempt at doing so came in 2003 when Keith Goodenough, a former Democratic senator from Natrona County, proposed a bill that would have made Wyoming the ninth state to legalize medical marijuana. The file was approved by a Senate committee, though it subsequently died having never been heard on the Senate floor.

 

In his short-lived legislative effort to legalize medical marijuana, Goodenough was ahead of his time as a Wyoming legislator. The next attempt to legalize marijuana came in 2019 when then-Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, proposed a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana. The bill died and was never considered for introduction on the House floor.

 

The latest effort to legalize medical marijuana came in 2022, when Marshall Burt, a former Libertarian representative from Sweetwater County, proposed a bill to do so. The bill was never considered for introduction on the House floor.

 

Another bill that died for the same reason in 2022 was sponsored by Mark Baker, a former Republican representative from Sweetwater County. The bill would have decriminalized possession of marijuana up to three ounces.

 

Sam Watt, owner of Platte Hemp Co., and Bennett Sondeno, executive director of the Wyoming branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, spearheaded the petition process for marijuana-related statutory reform in Wyoming.

 

“I’ve just spent the last five years working with legislators and I’m to the point where I’m not taking any more excuses and we have to do something and the majority of (legislators) are for the legalization of medical marijuana,” Watt said.

 

There were two initiative petitions, one of which would have reduced criminal penalties associated with marijuana. The other would have legalized medical marijuana. According to Ballotpedia, each petition needed 41,776 valid signatures, with a minimum of 15% of voters in 16 of the state’s 23 counties. On March 1, Wyoming NORML announced that 48,687 signatures were collected, though the 15% requirement was only met in 14 counties.

 

Mona Mitzel, a Sheridan County advocate for medical marijuana, championed an initiative petition in the county. She said many Sheridanites support the legalization of medical marijuana and many have health reasons for doing so.

 

Mitzel also said criminalized marijuana can harm someone for trying to manage pain.

 

“If a person has got some kind of chronic pain or recovering from cancer, and they want to use marijuana to help them feel better, they’re a criminal. Then if they get, gosh forbid, stopped by the cops or somebody says something and they get called in, they’re a criminal, they get thrown in jail,” Mitzel said. “I just think that’s archaic.”

 

Watt said he “would love to see” a special session for the Legislature to pass a law that would legalize medicinal use of marijuana but said he isn’t sure if the law would pass.

 

“It’s a 50/50 in my book. But, in my opinion, I think that (the Legislature) is stalling because they want to see the federal government pass it first,” Watt said.

 

At the federal level, Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, recently filed a bill, titled the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-prohibition Adult use Regulated Environment Act, that would help provide a framework to legalize marijuana federally.

 

“With nearly every state adopting its own set of cannabis reforms, an end to federal cannabis prohibition is inevitable,” Joyce said in a news release. “Now is the time for the federal government to respect the will of our constituents and begin the conversation on fair and effective cannabis regulation. The PREPARE Act will give lawmakers a bipartisan platform to legislate not only a fair and responsible end to prohibition but also a safer future for our communities.”

 

Until the federal or statewide prohibition on marijuana comes to an end, Wyomingites will need to, as ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith has said, “stay off the weed.”

 

This story was published on April 20, 2023. 

 

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