People with debilitating medical conditions would be allowed to grow 12 pot plants and all Wyomingites over age 21 could have marijuana for recreational use, according to a proposed initiative before the Wyoming Secretary of State's Office.
The 13-page proposed initiative was submitted last week by the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, members of which have been working on the initiative since the fall. Wyoming NORML hopes to have an initiative before voters in the 2016 election, but the group must first clear hurdles with the state.
Initiative supporters will face opposition from the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
The proposed initiative is a hybrid of several states’ marijuana laws or bills, including Colorado, Washington and Wisconsin, said Jackson resident Chris Christian, executive director of Wyoming NORML.
While recreational uses of pot would only be allowed for people age 21 and older, people under age 21 could use it medically if approved by a doctor and guardian, Christian said.
The purchase of marijuana wouldn’t be exclusive to Wyoming residents. Out-of-state residents would be allowed to have the same amounts, too.
“We’re going to bypass all that stuff Colorado did,” Christian said, referring to the Centennial State’s marijuana laws that distinguish a lower amount of pot that out-of-state residents can buy compared to Colorado residents.
The proposed initiative would decriminalize recreational use and public displays of 3 ounces or less of marijuana.
The proposed initiative establishes penalties for more than 4 ounces of marijuana, except in the cases of people called caregivers who teach medical patients how to use it. The proposed initiative would make it a felony for everyone other than registered caregivers to have more than 12 ounces, with prison time starting at one year and fines starting at $100,000.
Driving under the influence of marijuana would be illegal, the proposed initiative states.
State employees who use marijuana cannot be fired, the proposed initiative states.
Patients would qualify for medical marijuana by a physician who has applied for permission to offer the service by the Wyoming Department of Health. Patients would need to get assistance from caregivers, who are registered by the Wyoming Department of Health. Caregivers could help them acquire pot or teach them to grow it. Caregivers must have never been convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs, a violent felony or any felony in the past 10 years, the proposed initiative states.
“This is someone you hire, like a nurse’s aide, who you hire to help with your elderly parents,” Christian said of caregivers. “They might teach you how to take the oil from it, how to make food dishes.”
Some language in the proposed initiative is purposely vague, Christian said, so that the Wyoming Department of Health can decide whether to delegate regulations to local departments of health.
“We left a lot of leeway deliberately in there so they could make their own program that would work for them,” she said.
For recreational use, retail dispensaries would be regulated by the Wyoming Liquor Control Board. Towns and cities would be allowed to entirely ban sale or dispensing of recreational marijuana. They could also restrict business hours, locations and the number of licenses within Wyoming liquor laws, the proposed initiative states.
Sales tax on recreational pot could not exceed 25 percent of the wholesale value. Sales taxes would go toward administering the program, with additional revenue going to the state's General Fund, which is the account that funds state government operations. Excise taxes, which are taxes government levies on a specific product or service, cannot exceed 15 percent prior to Jan. 1, 2020. Afterward, the Wyoming Legislature can determine the rate. Excise taxes would go to the public school capital construction fund, the proposed initiative states.
Forms of hemp used for making rope or hay would be legal and regulated, Christian said.
Before the initiative appears on the ballot, Wyoming NORML must clear hurdles with the state. That includes legal review by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the Legislative Services Office. State agency directors must estimate fiscal impacts, said Peggy Nighswonger, state elections director.
By Jan. 21, the Secretary of State’s staff and NORML representatives will meet and discuss whether the proposed initiative is written in a way to conform with state laws.
A petition must be printed and signatures must be gathered from across the state, Christian said
The number of signatures necessary to get the initiative on the ballot will be a portion of the number of voters in the 2014 election, Christian said.
The board of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police is opposed to legalizing marijuana, Byron Oedekoven, the group’s executive director, said.
Oedekoven noted that experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies have not recommended legalization.
“It was initially touted as being for terminal or end-of-life (care), if you will, but the sheer number of folks that have medical exemptions or allowances has increased far above what (law enforcement) would want it to be,” he said of medical marijuana laws.
He believes legalization will bring more pot into the state and not all of it will be lawfully purchased. Some could be purchased from Mexican cartels.
“I’m not sure we want to finance their operations,” he said. “We’re already fighting guns and crime.”
More people will drive under the influence of marijuana if it were legalized, which poses a risk on Wyoming roads, Oedekoven said.
“We’re doing our best to make a difference in death from traffic accidents,” he said. “(Legalization) will make an impact on that.”