GILLETTE — A small group of people gathered at Dalbey Memorial Park Saturday evening in what may be the start of a more large-scale movement toward less restrictive Marijuana laws throughout Wyoming.
This weekend, kick-off events were hosted in several cities throughout Wyoming, including the Dalbey Park gathering in Gillette, to promote petitions to put Marijuana initiatives on the upcoming election ballots.
Earlier this summer, two ballot initiatives received the necessary 100 co-sponsors to become certified.
Now they are beginning the signature-gathering phase. It means that petition papers for new Marijuana legislation have begun circulating through Wyoming towns, in hopes of reaching the November 2022 or 2024 general election ballots. One initiative calls for decriminalization of Marijuana possession, use, cultivation and transfer. Its amendments to current drug legislation suggest reducing the fines and punishments for weed charges, while also increasing the felony possession threshold from no more than 3 ounces to up to 4 ounces.
The other calls for legalization of medical Marijuana.
That initiative would allow voters to approve or shoot down a plan to implement a regulated medical Marijuana framework into Wyoming.
Each initiative needs to gather 41,776 petition signatures for ballot placement, which is 15% of the state’s registered voting population.
Frank Latta, former Gillette mayor and Marijuana advocate, was at the kick-off event Saturday.
He is optimistic this Marijuana movement will fare better than past efforts. Latta is one of the initial signers and has long been involved in pushing for reformed Marijuana laws in Wyoming. For this current go-around, Wyoming NORML — a pro-pot organization — and the Wyoming Libertarian Party have joined together in support of the initiatives.
“All of us are just tired of the piddly stuff, the nonviolent stuff sending people to jail,” Latta said. “And we think it’s time to end that.”
Earlier this year, a bill outlining a path to legalize recreational and medical Marijuana was introduced to the state Legislature. With 12 state representatives and two senators as co-sponsors, House Bill 209 was introduced to the state House of Representatives but did not make it to the committee of the whole for consideration. That bill outlined a comprehensive approach to implementing both recreational and medicinal Marijuana throughout Wyoming.
While sharing some broad similarities, the ballot initiatives being petitioned for now are not as expansive and inclusive as the Marijuana bill shot down early in its run through the state Legislature.
“This is a watered down version of that. It’s something we’ve been trying to work on for a long time,” Latta said. “The Legislature just doesn’t have a lot of appetite for it at this time.”
Which is why pro-pot advocates are doing the legwork to bring the reformed Marijuana laws to the voters directly.
In last year’s general election, voters in neighboring Montana and South Dakota both got cannabis-friendlier laws approved, with Montana adding recreational legalization plans while South Dakota approved both recreational and medical.
Since then, the legalization in South Dakota has been challenged and still remains in flux.
And of course, nearby Colorado has been a leader in legalizing Marijuana.
While Wyoming didn’t have any new legislation make it through this year, there have been signs that public sentiment is shifting toward legalization.
A University of Wyoming poll conducted in 2020 found that 54% of Wyomingites support legalizing possession of Marijuana and about 85% support its use for medical purposes.
To make sure the petition gets in front of those in favor of legalization, Latta said signature-gatherers have been hired and will begin going door to door throughout Wyoming to get folks to put pen to paper on the initiatives.