Wyoming House Speaker Backs New Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana
Legislation introduced in Wyoming this week with the support of the House speaker and other leaders would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis, replacing the state’s current misdemeanor charge with a $100 fine.
Filed Tuesday by state Rep. Mark Baker (R), the multipartisan bill so far has 11 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Eric Barlow (R) and House Majority Whip Jared Olsen (R). Democratic leaders, specifically Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Mike Yin and Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, have also signed onto the bill, as have Independent Rep. Jim Roscoe and Libertarian Rep. Marshall Burt.
The policy change, which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to pass, comes as activists ready a pair of ballot proposals for 2024 that would decriminalize cannabis possession and legalize medical marijuana.
Lawmakers in Wyoming last legislative session considered a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use, but that measure stalled after advancing out of a House committee in March.
The new bill is considerably simpler than last year’s proposal, however. It would carve out an exception to the state’s criminal drug laws, removing the state’s current misdemeanor penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis. The existing penalty carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
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Instead, under the new bill, HB 106, people found with up to three ounces of cannabis would instead be subject to a civil fine of up to $100. The limit would be up to 30 grams for concentrated cannabis, 16 ounces for edibles, ointments and tinctures and 72 ounces for liquid cannabis products.
The legislation would also remove Wyoming’s existing repeat-offense enhancements around illegal cannabis activity, which carry harsher penalties and more time behind bars.
The proposal would not legalize cannabis sales or establish a regulated marijuana industry.
Meanwhile, activists in the state are working to qualify a pair of ballot initiatives that would decriminalize cannabis possession and also legalize medical marijuana for registered patients. Organizers, who are backed by Wyoming NORML and the national Libertarian Party, recently moved the target date for the ballot measures from this year back to 2024, though they’ve said they’re making solid progress in gathering signatures.
Under the activists’ proposal, first and second offense would be punishable by a $50 fine, while a third and any subsequent offense would penalized by a $75 fine. Cultivating marijuana would carry a maximum $200 fine.
People with more than the four-ounce limit would face a maximum $500 fine. Those found to be under the influence of cannabis could be fined $50.
For the medical proposal, patients would be able to purchase and possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower and 20 grams of “medical marijuana-derived products” in 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.
Backers of the would-be ballot measures, however, aren’t opposed to lawmakers taking the lead. “We would prefer a legislative process,” Apollo Pazell, a national strategist for Libertarian Party, told the Casper Star-Tribune, citing the procedural difficulties of qualifying citizen-led initiatives for the ballot.
Survey data from 2020 suggests a majority of Wyoming residents approve of even more sweeping changes than those currently being considered. A University of Wyoming poll from December of that year found that 54 percent of residents favored allowing “adults in Wyoming to legally possess marijuana for personal use.”
Wyoming’s neighbors Montana and South Dakota were among several states where voters approved marijuana legalization ballot measures in November.
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