CHEYENNE – A medical marijuana initiative that had been in the works since 2015 won’t be on the ballot in 2018 after the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office did not receive petitions by last Tuesday’s deadline.
Nonetheless, medical marijuana supporters said they will continue to push for legalization of medical marijuana in Wyoming.
The deadline for the petition was 18 months after the petition began in 2015.
While the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) helped with the signature drive, the organization was not the official sponsor of the petition.
On Monday, Wyoming NORML issued a statement saying the organization had turned in its signatures to the original sponsors, though Wyoming NORML Director Frank Latta told the Gillette News Record he thought the petition would be short signatures.
However, those never made it to the Secretary of State’s office.
Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Will Dinneen confirmed last week that signatures had not been received.
The original organizers of the medical marijuana petition, known formally as the Peggy A. Kelley Wyoming Cannabis Act, were hoping to get the initiative on the 2016 ballot.
When there weren’t enough signatures for the 2016 ballot, the effort continued with the goal of 2018.
In the meantime, there was infighting among other marijuana groups, which may have hurt the potential success of the petition.
Since the petition began, Wyoming NORML has new leadership and has had a presence at the Legislature this session.
The group is now focused on legalizing medical marijuana.
Carrie Satterwhite, a spokeswoman for Wyoming NORML, said the group will continue its efforts in the Legislature and potential ballot initiatives.
“We feel very confident in how things should go from here,” she said.
Satterwhite said she thinks infighting among other groups was a factor in public perception of the initiative.
“People saw the infighting as being us,” she said. “There’s been no fighting in our group. We’ve all been on the same page.”
Disagreement in other groups also negatively affected the number of signatures that were actually collected, she said.
But Satterwhite says “the support is there” for medical marijuana, giving the group reason to continue its efforts.
“A few years ago, nobody was even talking about it,” she said. “We’re making strides.”
Latta said Wyoming NORML will have a board meeting next week to talk about the next steps.
A University of Wyoming poll in October found that more Wyoming residents support legalizing marijuana now than in 2014.
Support for medical marijuana (with a doctor’s prescription) increased from 74 percent in 2014 to 81 percent in 2016.
Marijuana for personal use also saw increased support, from 37 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2016 – though the majority of respondents are still against it.
Additionally, 72 percent of Wyoming residents feel possession of small amounts of marijuana should not result in jail time, compared to 66 percent in 2014.
At the Legislature
State lawmakers have discussed several bills dealing with marijuana.
Only one bill has continued to move forward: House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.
As originally written, the bill would have created a tiered penalty system for marijuana possession violations in which each subsequent offense in a 10-year period would get a higher penalty.
The bill would have also filled the “edibles loophole,” which refers to the situation in Wyoming law that does not adequately address edibles or other marijuana-infused products.
Under the proposed law, someone caught with less than 3 ounces of marijuana in plant form or 8 ounces of a marijuana-infused product would face a fine of up to $200 and/or 20 days in jail for a first offense. Penalties increase for the second and third offenses, culminating with a felony on the fourth offense.
The bill passed the House of Representatives with a change to make the look-back period five years instead of 10.
However, the Senate Judiciary Committee last week reversed that change and was confronted with several other changes suggested by people who testified at the committee meeting.
That committee also removed the plant form of marijuana from the bill entirely, making it only applicable to marijuana-containing products.
The committee did not vote on the bill, instead tabling it to a future meeting, likely this week.
While Wyoming NORML was not opposed to the original bill, Latta told the A Better Wyoming blog that changes that lessen the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana would cause NORML to no longer support the bill.
Latta, a former state lawmaker himself and past mayor of Gillette, has been a regular presence at the Legislature and has spoken during hearings on marijuana bills.
Other marijuana bills this session included attempts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana on first offense.
After that bill didn’t make it out of committee, attempts were made to insert such a provision in HB 197, but Olsen and others fought back, saying the bill was not meant to be a decriminalization bill.
Another bill that would have recognized medical marijuana cards from other states also failed.
Further, Reps. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, and Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, introduced House Joint Resolution 11, which would have put a ballot initiative on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide whether to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.
That resolution was never heard in the House.
Regardless, there could be evidence of changing opinions among lawmakers.
After medical marijuana patients testified at a House Judiciary Committee meeting a few weeks ago, several lawmakers said hearing personal experiences may be causing them to evolve on the issue.
“I think they are; as the nation moves and as they continue to get educated,” Latta said when asked if he thought the Legislature was becoming more accepting of medical marijuana.
Latta said he hopes the topic is discussed during interim committees, which would allow more doctors and medical marijuana patients to share their experiences with lawmakers.
“We’ve already proven we have the numbers there,” he said. “It’s just taken time. I think we’re in great shape.”
Following the November general election, recreational marijuana is or will be legal in Colorado, Washing-ton, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.
Medical marijuana is legal in more than half the states in the country, including Colorado and Montana.