The state Legislature will debate for the third year a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Democratic Rep. Jim Byrd said current fines and jail time can hurt young people’s lives. Police officers spend time on marijuana cases when they could be patrolling for crimes that are more of a danger to society. The courts system is jammed with pot cases, he said.
House Bill 3 would carry a civil penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana the first and second times a person is in possession of it.
People caught with up to a half ounce of pot would be fined $50. The fine would increase to $100 for someone caught with between a half ounce and an ounce of the drug.
If people are caught with over an ounce of pot, or if they’re caught with an ounce or less three or more times, they are referred to criminal court and face stiffer penalties -- mandatory counseling, fines of $500 to $1,000, up to 30 days behind bars and probation of up to a year.
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The next legislative session begins Feb. 8. It’s a budget session, where bills must receive a two-thirds vote to clear introduction -- a rule that’s aimed on keeping lawmakers focused on passing a two-year state budget.
Byrd’s bill is similar to the measures he sponsored in 2014 and 2015, except people with previous drug violations who are caught with small amounts of pot could end up in criminal court faster.
Byrd lives in Cheyenne, which is just north of the border with Colorado, where marijuana is legal. He said he made the changes for his new bill after considering feedback he received from lawmakers last session. During that session, his bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee but died on the House floor. Many libertarian Republicans and Democrats supported the legislation.
“It made it through Judiciary and I actually got some votes on the House floor,” Byrd said. “It’s making progress. The first time it died. It didn’t make the introduction vote.”
The Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, which has opposed the bill in the past, doesn’t yet have a position on the 2016 bill.
“I’d have to run that by the board,” said Byron Oedekoven, the group’s executive director.
The group hasn’t yet formed an opinion on another marijuana measure Byrd said he is in the process of drafting: medical marijuana reciprocity. The legislation would allow people who have medical marijuana cards issued in other states to travel through Wyoming without getting in trouble for possession, he said.
“We tell them, ‘No, that’s bad. We’re going to impound your car. We’re going to throw you in jail,'” Byrd said. “But if you have a valid ID from the state from which you reside, and you have a valid medical marijuana card, you will be allowed to travel across our state from Point A to Point B and not go to jail.”
If people with a medical marijuana card legitimately obtained in another state stay in Wyoming for a long period of time, they would be violating existing state statute that declares people become Wyoming residents after 30 days. Those people cannot use other state identification if they become Wyoming residents, Byrd said.
“If you’ve been here over 30 days and you’re still carrying a California marijuana card and a California ID, that’s two problems,” he said.
Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.