Wyoming Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill Sponsored By Top GOP Leaders
A Wyoming House committee on Friday approved a bill to legalize marijuana and briefly discussed a separate proposal to require state agencies to study and issue recommendations on allowing medical cannabis.
The adult-use legalization legislation was taken up by the Judiciary Committee, whose Republican chair is its lead sponsor. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to 12 mature plants for personal use.
The measure, which is also cosponsored by the House speaker and other top GOP lawmakers, cleared the panel in a 6-3 vote after receiving testimony from state agencies and the public—including former U.S. senator and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who now resides in Wyoming.
“With my opening remarks, I would pose this question to the committee, which is simply: is Wyoming ready to legalize marijuana?” Chairman Jared Olsen (R) said. “That’s the question in front of this committee, that’s the topic that this legislature has not heard for over four years now, so I think this marks an important moment in Wyoming, where we are now discussing a topic that we’ve all avoided for many years.”
He also cited recent surveys showing majority public support for the policy change, both in Wyoming and nationally, and the increasing number of states where voters have approved legalization via ballot. Olsen said he expects voters in Wyoming to take the the lead on ending cannabis prohibition if the legislature doesn’t act.
If a voter-led legalization initiative passes, the chairman pointed out, “it means that the legislative process doesn’t design the regulation of marijuana.”
“Instead, the public by ballot initiative, which may be a lot more simplistic, decides what that will look like,” he said. “And then you will return to decide how do we adjust that? How do we fix that? How do we wrap our arms around it? How do we how do we regulate it?”
“I bring [this bill] because I believe that those realities are real—that an initiative reality is real for Wyoming and that the descheduling of the drug in Washington, D.C. is a very likely reality for Wyoming and that when there’s only six states that choose to do nothing, imagine where Wyoming is going to be when one of those two things happens,” he added. “So I bring a solution in an attempt to put our arms around it and decide what we want it to look like.”
Wyoming’s neighbors Montana and South Dakota were among several states that approved marijuana legalization ballot measures in November.
Therefore, Olsen urged the committee to pass his bill, which would impose a 30 percent tax on marijuana sales. Two-thirds of that tax revenue would go to public schools and the remaining one-third would be allocated to individuals jurisdictions that allow marijuana retail locations in their areas.
Several of the lawmakers who voted to approve the bill in committee said they are planning to oppose it on the floor or aren’t sure how they will vote then but are in favor of advancing the legislation through the panel so that the full body gets a chance to discuss what they see as an important issue.
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Chafee, the former Rhode Island official who also ran as a 2020 Libertarian presidential candidate, said he supports the legislation and recommended “keeping as much control as possible over every aspect of this endeavor.”
The bill “will create a lucrative revenue stream,” he said. “We all want to see these revenues go to necessary government services and to keep taxes down.”
The legislation would become effective July 1, 2021. However, the bill doesn’t seem to contain language stipulating how soon licenses would be issued or when sales would begin.
A former Wyoming lawmaker gave an emotional testimony in favor of the bill, explaining how his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis cost him his career because, even with the prescription medications he was administered, he did not have the ability to continue his work. Marijuana represents a possible treatment that doesn’t carry serious side effects, he said, and the government shouldn’t “be regulating in any way on a plant.”
Opponents who testified against the legislation included Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana.
Unlike several other legalization bills that are being introduced in legislatures across the country, this one doesn’t appear to address issues related to social equity or expungements for prior cannabis convictions.
The committee also briefly discussed a separate bill that would mandate that the “state health officer, with the assistance of the department of health, the board of pharmacy, the state board of medicine, the state insurance commissioner and the attorney general, shall develop a report on the implementation of medical marijuana in Wyoming.”
Members did not act on that legislation before adjourning.
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