Marijuana advocates introduce initiatives to legalize the substance

By Ellen Fike, Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 6/24/21

A number of cannabis advocates and members of the Libertarian Party made history June 4 as they submitted two marijuana-related ballot initiatives, kicking off a campaign that will last until …

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Marijuana advocates introduce initiatives to legalize the substance


A number of cannabis advocates and members of the Libertarian Party made history June 4 as they submitted two marijuana-related ballot initiatives, kicking off a campaign that will last until November 2022. 

A number of organizations joined forces outside of the Wyoming State Capitol in a news conference where they discussed the importance of legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing marijuana for personal usage in the state. About two dozen people attended in support of the ballot initiatives. 

“People should be able to make their own choices in life,” Rep. Marshall Burt, L-Green River, said. “The key to making your own choices is that you don’t hurt anyone else. We’ll be here ... for the freedom for people to make medical decisions for themselves.” 

Burt added that medical marijuana in the state would cut down on opioid usage, as those drugs can be highly addictive, especially among severely ill patients and veterans. 

The Legislature previously considered a recreational marijuana bill, but it was killed once it got out of committee. 

This is what led to the ballot initiatives being submitted through this route, as these organizers and advocates wanted to show government officials that the legalization of medical marijuana is important to the people of Wyoming. 

One of the ballot initiatives would legalize medical marijuana for personal use in Wyoming, as this state is only one of four left in the nation where marijuana is fully criminalized (the other three are Idaho, Kansas and South Carolina). 

The other initiative would decriminalize, not legalize, marijuana for personal use. 

A survey done by the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center in October showed that 85% of residents who were questioned supported legalizing medical marijuana. The poll also showed that 75% of surveyed residents supported decriminalization of the drug and 54% supported full legalization. 

In addition to the Libertarian Party, there were also representatives from Utah’s TRUCE organization, Wyoming NORML and the Wyoming Patients Coalition. 

Wyoming NORML executive director Bennett Sondeno talked of his late friend, Bill, who passed away a few years ago after being exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. 

“I said, ‘Bill, if you’re dying, would you consider trying cannabis?’ and he did,” Sondeno said. “He took all these drugs he was taking and quit them cold turkey, which I am not suggesting, but he managed to survive four and a half years after he should have died. Cannabis changed his life.” 

Kemmerer resident Madonna Long was critically injured during a school bus accident when she was in high school that left her with a spinal cord injury. Cannabis helps with the spasms she suffers from due to her injury. 

“People should be able to have the freedom to decide what they do, based on their chronic illness or disability,” Long said. 

Following the news conference, the advocates headed to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office to submit the ballot initiatives.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported that group plans to have petitioners on the ground this summer and fall and have the signatures needed to get it on the ballot collected by July 31, 2022. The effort is using more than volunteers; the leaders plan to “employ full-time teams on the ground for the next 18 months,” Apollo Pazell, chief strategist for the national Libertarian Party, told the Star-Tribune.

In 2018, a medical marijuana initiative failed to go out to voters because the Secretary of State’s office did not receive the signatures by the deadline.

To get the measure on the ballot, organizers will need to gather signatures of 15% of the qualified voters in at least two-thirds of Wyoming’s 23 counties.

During the legislative session earlier this year, a pair of 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 out of the House Judiciary Committee by a 6-3 vote, the Star-Tribune noted.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, who sponsored the legalization bill, estimated that the state would generate around $50 million in tax revenue during the first year of legalization. Opponents to the bill said it would be hard to regulate dosages and warned of expensive upfront infrastructure costs, the Star-Tribune reported.

Wyoming is one of six states where marijuana use and possession are still entirely illegal.