A statewide law enforcement group is looking to garner support from communities to start an anti-marijuana education campaign, angering cannabis activists.
The Marijuana Education and Awareness Project would provide information on the “harmful effects of marijuana,” said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. The group's members are visiting city councils, county commissions, hospital and school boards and chambers of commerce to gauge support for their campaign.
“We think there is support,” Oedekoven said. “Support for education."
However, Chris Christian, director of the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called the police group’s information on marijuana slanted and out of date. For example, a study on youth marijuana use quoted by the law enforcement group in a handout is four years old, she claimed.
“That is deliberately misleading,” she said.
The education campaign comes as a task force appointed by Gov. Matt Mead begins to study the public health and safety effects of legalized marijuana. One member of the task force is also a member of the sheriffs and police chiefs association.
Oedekoven claimed there are vast misunderstandings surrounding marijuana, edibles and THC-infused oils, leaving people confused.
Using material from medical groups such as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, Oedekoven said his group plans to create educational billboards and commercials about marijuana. The group would also create a website and use social media to spread the word, he said.
“We’ll be looking at a very medical, very factual discussion about marijuana,” Oedekoven said.
On Wednesday, Christian created a petition on MoveOn.org calling for a retraction of the law enforcement group's “untruthful statements.” The petition says if the group does not retract, it should face investigation for “being an unregistered political lobby” and be prohibited from conducting the education campaign.
“I think our petition will shut these guys down,” Christian said.
The petition had over 150 signatures Friday afternoon. Christian said she would be delivering it to the law enforcement group and the governor when it has garnered 500 signatures.
The petition states the education project “does nothing but enhance the public perception of abuse of police powers.” Christian says the law enforcement organization is not a political lobby. However, Oedekoven is a registered lobbyist, according to the Wyoming Capitol Club.
In any case, Christian said she doesn’t think the campaign will change the minds of Wyomingites.
Christian and other marijuana activists will start collecting signatures Friday to get an initiative on the 2016 general election ballot to legalize medical marijuana.
The proposed initiative would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and allow farmers and ranchers to grow industrial hemp. The pro-marijuana group needs over 25,000 signatures of registered voters from throughout the state by Feb. 8 to make the November 2016 ballot.
Oedekoven couldn’t say whether his group promotes or opposes marijuana for medicinal purposes. He said the organization is in the process of developing a position paper on the issue.
However, Oedekoven told the Star-Tribune in May the group would be opposing the medical marijuana initiative.
Rep. Jim Byrd, D-Cheyenne, who is helping with the proposed medical marijuana initiative, described some of the statistics used by the law enforcement group as “voodoo sociology.” Anyone can find research to support an argument, he said, whether the research is credible is another story, Byrd said.
Seventy-two percent of Wyomingites support medical marijuana, according to a survey last year by the University of Wyoming.
Considering that level of support, Byrd believes the measure will pass -- if enough signatures are collected to land the initiative on the 2016 ballot.
“My life, my choices,” he said. “Now when those choices negatively interfere with society and our culture, then maybe the government needs to make some regulations. Until then, forget it.”
Staff writer Laura Hancock contributed to this report.