Wyoming organizers behind two proposed cannabis ballot measures—one to legalize medical marijuana and another to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis—say the would-be initiatives have failed to qualify for the state’s 2024 ballot.
One of the primary backers of the measures, Wyoming NORML, announced this week that although campaigners collected more than enough raw signatures to meet statewide thresholds for each initiative, they appear to have fallen short of Wyoming’s requirement that gathered petitions also meet minimum percentages in two-thirds of the state’s counties.
Despite the failure to qualify the would-be initiatives for next year’s ballot, organizers said in a press release on Wednesday that they’ll “continue to work with legislators over the upcoming legislative session to bring bills to the floor that utilize the language of each initiative” as well as continue to take steps to put reform before voters in future election cycles.
Bennett Sondeno, Wyoming NORML’s executive director, acknowledged that the road to reform through the state’s legislature could be difficult and emphasized the importance of keeping the ballot push alive.
“We know that we have a lot of support in both houses of the Wyoming legislature, but there are powerful funders and string pullers who have kept them from acting with justice and compassion,” Sondeno told Marijuana Moment. “We hope to work with our legislators at every session and in the interim, but we are raising money for professional petitioners that we are working with now to make sure that the voters will have a chance to make moves if politicians remain intransigent in the future.”
Petitioners collected 48,687 signatures for the medical marijuana proposal, titled the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act, and 47,426 signatures for the decriminalization measure. Organizers told Marijuana Moment those were raw counts and not state-validated signatures.
Putting a citizen initiative on the ballot in Wyoming requires organizers to gather signatures that amount to 15 percent of votes cast in the last general election. To qualify a measure for 2024’s ballot, the threshold is 41,776 signatures.
Where organizers fell short is at the county level. Wyoming requires campaigns to similarly hit the 15-percent threshold in two thirds of counties, which cannabis advocates failed to do.
Activists attempted to qualify the prospective ballot measures for the state’s 2022 ballot, but amid poor weather conditions and the ongoing pandemic in 2021, the signature-gathering effort fell short and the campaign turned its attention to 2024.
Wyoming NORML told Marijuana Moment there was some tension between organizers the office of Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray (R) around the signature count and related deadlines this year. “We couldn’t rely on the SOS to do it, because he had his legal team determine that they could move the deadline up on us by two months, didn’t tell us, and then promised one of our board members that it didn’t matter how many we handed in, he would lose them,” Sondeno said.
The organizer expressed optimism about qualifying reform measures for future ballots, however, noting that there will be a lower signature threshold after the state’s latest midterm election. “The threshold is so low for the next effort,” he said, “that we would have made it this time even with problems with volunteer clearance rates.”
Asked what a forthcoming initiative proposal might look like, Sondeno said the measures would be “the same two: one decriminalization and one medical program.”
Under the medical proposal, patients would be able to purchase and possess up to four ounces of flower and 20 grams of “medical marijuana-derived products” over a 30-day period.
People with any of more than a dozen qualifying conditions—including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia—would also be able to cultivate up to eight mature plants for personal use.
The separate decriminalization measure would impose small fines on people possessing up to four ounces of marijuana, without the threat of jail time. A first and second offense would be considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine, while a third and any subsequent offense would penalized by a $75 fine. Cultivating marijuana would be punishable by a maximum $200 fine.
People found to be under the influence of cannabis could be fined $50 under the measure. Those caught in possession of more than the four ounce limit would face a maximum $500 fine.
Last year the Wyoming House speaker, Rep. Mark Baker (R), filed a bipartisan decriminalization bill to remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and replace the state’s current misdemeanor charge with a $100 fine. But that legislation did not receive a vote despite support from top GOP lawmakers. Baker said there simply wasn’t time in a short session devoted to the state budget.
A bill to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult use in Wyoming advanced out of a House committee in 2021, but it did not move further by the end of that session.
Wyoming’s neighbors Montana and South Dakota were among several states where voters approved marijuana legalization ballot measures in 2020, although the latter was overturned by the state Supreme Court and a subsequent effort last year was rejected by voters.
A poll released in 2020 found that 54 percent of Wyoming residents supported allowing adults in the state “to legally possess marijuana for personal use.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.