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Preliminary signature gathering process begins for 2022 marijuana ballot initiatives
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Preliminary signature gathering process begins for 2022 marijuana ballot initiatives

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Marijuana Rally

Demonstrators walk toward the Wyoming Capitol to urge the state to legalize marijuana in 2014 in Cheyenne. Wyoming is one of the only states in the region that has not taken steps to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana. 

The first steps toward ballot initiatives that would make Wyoming a more marijuana-friendly state are underway, but there are still big hurdles that need to be cleared.

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office granted what’s known as “conditional certification” Monday to the two proposed ballot initiatives: the “Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act of 2022” and the “Wyoming Cannabis Amendments 2022.” The first would legalize medical marijuana and the second would reduce the fines and punishments related to consumption, possession and cultivation of marijuana, better known as decriminalization.

Organizers went through multiple meetings with the Secretary of State’s office that changed the initiatives, but they still accomplish the original goals. If the decriminalization initiative is passed, Wyomingites will receive $50 fines for first offense possession under four ounces and $75 fines for third and subsequent offenses. Jail time will be eliminated.

Senate Democrats just rolled out a bill to end the federal ban on marijuana. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer argues most Americans support legalization and that current laws are fundamentally unfair. "Young men and young women, disproportionately young Black and Hispanic men and women have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana in their pocket," Schumer said. "A charge that came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record because of the over-criminalization of marijuana, and it followed them for the remainder of their lives. It makes no sense and its time for change."  Eighteen states and D.C. have already legalized recreational marijuana, while a vast majority of states have legalized medical marijuana.

The organizers, which are made up of the state and national Libertarian Party as well as Wyoming community leaders, now have 30 days to collect the first 100 signatures of people to act as co-sponsors and make the certification final. The certification does not make any judgement on the status of weed in Wyoming, but rather certifies that the initiative is in the format required by law.

“We anticipate that we will complete the first 100 signatures (plus an additional 100 for a cushion) by Friday,” Apollo Pazell, chief strategist for the national Libertarian Party, said in an email to the Star-Tribune.

The only requirement for the first 100 signatures is that they must come from registered Wyoming voters anywhere in the state.

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“We have been identifying co-sponsors for the past 14 days and have identified patients, community leaders like state reps and city councilors, plus a good number of donors who have reached out to help,” Pazell said. “We will have a couple of petition gatherers driving around the state through Friday collecting the signatures.”

After the first 100 signatures are gathered, the organizers will then take on the herculean task of gathering the 41,776 signatures — or 15% of votes in the previous election — to get each initiative on the ballot.

But it’s not as easy as going to the most populous cities in Wyoming and getting passersby to sign. The organizers need to secure signatures of 15% of voters in the 2020 election in at least two-thirds or 16 of Wyoming’s 23 counties. If organizers are successful in getting the required signatures, the measures still require over 50% of total voters in the election to vote to enact them. Getting ballot initiatives passed is particularly difficult in Wyoming, as these requirements are some of the toughest in the country.

While organizers will face logistical challenges, there’s evidence that support for marijuana legalization is growing in the state.

A University of Wyoming study from December shows more than half of residents support legalizing it for recreational use, and 85% are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

During the 2020 legislative session, two bills — one that would have authorized a study on medical marijuana and another aimed at full legalization — died without a hearing in the House. Both passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 6-3 vote.

Until organizers are successful, Wyoming will remain one of six states where marijuana use and possession are still entirely illegal.

Follow state politics reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis

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