CHEYENNE -- A 20-member council met for the first time Wednesday morning to talk about the potential impacts of legalized medical or recreational marijuana in Wyoming.

The Governor’s Marijuana Impact Assessment Council discussed reviewing available data on law enforcement needs, revenue potential, medicinal benefits and substance abuse treatment. 

“This is not a haphazard gathering,” said Mike Reed, the group’s co-chairman and a policy adviser for Gov. Matt Mead. “You have everyone from highway to revenue to families to law enforcement. We have a great mix of people. I think we have a good chance of getting to the meat of the issue.”

The group anticipates meeting three more times before releasing a public report in time for the 2016 legislative session. Group members plan to present data and won’t make any recommendations in the report, said Tom Forslund, director of the Wyoming Department of Health and group chairman.

The Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is proposing an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

Wyoming State Election Director Peggy Nighswonger told the group the proposed initiative has several steps before it qualifies as a ballot measure. On Tuesday, the proposal went to a printer. Several copies will be printed and distributed throughout the state. Wyoming NORML must obtain nearly 26,000 signatures by Feb. 8 from registered voters throughout the state to be placed on the ballot.

In addition to law enforcement needs, revenue potential, medicinal benefits and substance abuse treatment, group members discussed other research they believe should be considered. They planned to amass as much research as they could, and will vet it at a later date. 

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said he would like to know if marijuana causes people to use other drugs. During traffic stops, officers often find drugs such as prescription pills and methamphetamine in addition to marijuana, he said. 

Charles Ksir, a University of Wyoming psychology and neuroscience professor emeritus, said broader economic impacts should be considered.

“It’s not simply the direct tax revenue to the state that’s an impact here,” he said. “They’ve created an industry that has a lot of dollars behind it.”

For instance, law firms in Denver began specializing in cannabis when the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, he said. 

Ksir also thinks the group needs to consider whether legalization leads to increased overall usage, especially in young people.

Steve Butler, associate research scientist with the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at UW, said it was a complex question with research pointing both directions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in addition to considering young people’s usage with legalization, she’d like to look at the support schools might need, such as additional teacher or administrator training.

Shelley Simonton, of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said she’s curious about neurological effects on children when they use marijuana.

Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said a Colorado hospital report is due in September that will look at the cost of fatalities and emergency room visits as a result of legalization. He will submit it to the group. He offered two full-time research analysts who could help the group find other information on marijuana impacts.  

Members of the public were allowed to offer comments at the end of the meeting.

Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, told the group the state has already begun to loosen the prohibition on cannabis by legalizing a hemp extract oil that is believed to help seizure patients.

“I just want to remind everybody we did pass a medical marijuana bill last session,” he said. “It was for CBD oil.”

Cheyenne resident Jim Wollack asked the group to investigate how many marijuana users obtain food stamps, government medical care, housing aid and other government benefits. Those benefits need to be considered in relation to potential revenues, he said.

The next meeting will be announced at a later date.

Follow the group's progress and read scientific research on medical and recreational marijuana at gmiac.wyo.gov.

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

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