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Barron: Wyoming lawmakers can’t duck marijuana reform forever
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Barron: Wyoming lawmakers can’t duck marijuana reform forever

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CHEYENNE — Facing increasing pressures, Wyoming lawmakers may be unable to dodge much longer a discussion on reforming the state’s marijuana laws.

Wyoming is now one of only four states that treat marijuana use as a criminal offense, punishable by fines, jail or prison depending on the amount involved and the intent.

The other laggard states are Idaho, Kansas and South Carolina.

In Idaho a citizens coalition is working on a ballot initiative to change its marijuana laws. Montana starts selling licenses in January authorized by yet another citizens ballot initiative.

So the ring is tightening around Wyoming.

Pot, grass, weed, whatever you want to call it, the plant is with us or will be seeping through all the borders, not just the one with Colorado.

In Wyoming, a citizen’s group, led by Libertarians and other activists is also starting a campaign for a ballot initiative.

Aiming for a slot on the Nov, 2022 general election ballot, the group has a daunting job ahead, given Wyoming’s notoriously tough signature requirements. Supporters must collect 41,775 signatures from voters in the state.

The signatures must be gathered from voters in two-thirds of Wyoming’s 23 counties. That’s the hardest part.

Because of the requirements, Few initiatives have passed over the years.

Those that have succeeded were well-financed so the supporters had money to hire professional signature gatherers. Grass roots efforts with volunteers didn’t work.

The marked shift in public opinion on marijuana meanwhile was amazing in its speed. The phenomena is equal to the turnaround in public acceptance of gay marriages.

Yet in the Wyoming Legislature, the marijuana discussion currently has come to a dead end.

In the session last winter, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to legalize marijuana on a 6 to 3. vote. The main sponsor, Cheyenne Republican State Rep. Jared Olsen, the committee chairman, said the topic was one the lawmakers had been avoiding for four years.

Citing public opinion surveys and the movement of all the other states, Olsen said it was important to deal with it now rather than having to live with the language in the coming citizens ballot initiative.

Olsen, an attorney, said he was not a marijuana advocate at all, but was trying to deal with the reality facing the state that will be surrounded by other states that offer marijuana at some level.

He also noted that a federal bill to de-schedule marijuana as a controlled substance appeared likely to pass Congress.

“I believe that those realities are real,” Olsen said in a video of the March 12, 2021 committee meeting.

Although the committee passed the bill, patterned after Virginia’s law, some members who voted for it said they would oppose in on the House floor.

But it never go to the floor and died on the House General File, apparently because the leaders couldn’t find enough support for it.

Despite the show of some support in the Legislature and mounting outside influences, the Joint Judiciary Committee’s list of interim studies does not include marijuana reform

Because the committee bill and others failed, the Libertarians and other activists unsheathed their ballot initiatives — one would allow marijuana use for medical reasons, the other would decriminalize marijuana for personal use.

The web site Marjuana Moments cited two incidents in Wyoming to demonstrate the state’s position and law enforcement efforts to curb use and traffic of the weed.

One was the case in Laramie County where hemp farmers were accused of cultivating marijuana.

That case was quickly dismissed for — lack of a case.

The other controversy was the Casper law enforcement “drug interdiction operation” in March supported by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency “cannabis suppression” funding provided to the Casper Police Department led to the arrests of 23 people.

I can present a solid case to support the legalization of medical marijuana.

She is a friend who is retirement age, disabled and a chronic pain patient.

For her cannabis cuts down on her need for dangerous narcotics — you know the kind — the opioids.

For me, that is good enough reason to vote for one of those ballot initiatives or maybe both.

Given the opposition here, getting a vote of the people probably is the only way ever to get the laws changed.

Joan Barron is a former capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net

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