A push is starting to grow legs for the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Wyoming. On Saturday, the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws held a petition drive in City Park to get the question of legalization before the voters on the ballot.
Around 80 people signed petitions to legalize medicinal marijuana and decriminalize charges for possession of marijuana. Wyoming NORML is not pursuing any effort for legalization of recreational marijuana at this time.
B.J. Sondeno, a Cody resident and treasurer of Wyoming NORML, said more than 1,000 names were collected statewide over the weekend.
In order to get a measure on the ballot in Wyoming, at least 41,775 signatures must be collected from 2/3 of Wyoming’s 23 counties by Feb. 14, 2022.
If passed, Sondeno said the initiative would be regulated by the Wyoming Liquor Division. NORML has established full rules for the product. Dispensaries would have to be located at least 200 yards from schools, libraries or playgrounds. Buyers could purchase up to four ounces of marijuana per 30-day period.
A similar initiative was attempted in 2016 but did not garner enough votes to get on the ballot.
“This time around everyone is so much warmer,” Sondeno said, adding many in the past expressed quiet support, but also expressed fear about publicly supporting marijuana. “Every meeting, I just sit back and smile.”
Sondeno is a firm believer in the medicinal benefits of marijuana and said it changed his life for the last 20 years, helping him get off eight different prescription drugs for chronic digestive issues.
“I’m five pounds heavier thanks to it,” he said. “It’s not a marijuana issue if used responsibly.”
He said marijuana is an excellent alternative to highly-addictive opiates.
When Cody resident William Barth was informed by the VA they would no longer support his morphine prescription for chronic pain and diabetes, he had to turn somewhere else to alleviate his pain. His wife Rhonda Barth said her husband was bed-ridden when removed from the prescription drugs, suffering severe withdrawals.
“He could hardly move,” she said.
But William Barth became a new man once he started taking marijuana, able to enjoy the last 4.5 years of his life withdrawal-free, his wife said. He was able to fish and spend time with his family because of the pain relief and “euphoric” feeling the marijuana gave him, Rhonda Barth said. Still, Rhonda Barth said her husband did feel guilty about ingesting an illegal substance.
“He said he felt like he would die a felon,” she said.
Wapiti resident Richard Jones, one of the staunchest opponents of the marijuana legalization efforts, said people who think marijuana is helping them are solely benefiting from their symptoms being masked, not resolved. He said if marijuana was actually effective in curing the illnesses many claim it to, big pharma would have made efforts to sell the product.
Sondeno said if marijuana can take away the pain for someone with a fatal illness, what’s the harm?
“It’s a people issue,” said Carrie Satterwhite who was helping collect signatures on Saturday. “Just like prescription drugs and alcohol.”
Jones views marijuana as just as bad as alcohol and opiates. He said the fact that the tobacco industry has gotten involved with marijuana and specifically vaping, shows that it is an addictive drug marketed to children.
A study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that teenage marijuana users have double the prevalence of addiction than they do for nicotine, alcohol, and, in most categories of users, even prescription drug misusers. The addiction rate was as high as 20% among those who had used more than three years, and double the rate of alcohol in all categories.
A 2017 National Academy of Sciences study found evidence that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.
The study also found those who used cannabis prior to driving increased their risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident and in states where cannabis use is legal, there is an increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose among children.
Four states bordering Wyoming have legalized marijuana to some degree. Over the last 10 years, the trend of states dropping marijuana regulations has been like a line of falling dominos. Sondeno said the encouraging national climate and increasing knowledge about the leafy drug has sparked more local comfortability with it.
He said the prison system is made for much more heinous crimes than marijuana possession and use.
The latest push has the support of the state and national Libertarian Party and the Wyoming Patients Coalition. Sondeno said Christine Stenquist, a key advocate behind the Utah medicinal legalization, is assisting Wyoming NORML.
“It’s amazing the people that are involved in this,” Sondeno said.
He said they have altered their strategy this time around by targeting specific Wyoming counties they predict they will be successful in. Soldeno said Park is one of these counties.
Sondeno finds it “very likely” the questions will make it to the ballot and then pass into law. He said NORML will continue to run petition-drive events over the next few months.
According to NAS, cannabis is currently the most popular illicit drug in the United States, in terms of past-month users. The survey also found that 90% of adult users in the United States said their primary use was recreational.
At this point 39 states have passed either decriminalized or legalized cannabis use on some level, but lawmakers in Mississippi and South Dakota have passed legislation negating these orders.
Sondeno said if the initiative passes in Wyoming, legislators will “follow the prevailing national trend and adopt adult use.” If that doesn’t happen he said “we will take matters into our own hands again.”
Marijuana is fully legal for recreational use in 18 states. A total of 18 passed marijuana-legalization legislation through the voters, while 24 others passed through their legislators.
“In all the states where medicinal was legalized they immediately went back for recreational,” Jones said.
In 2013, the Justice Department issued the Cole Memorandum, which stated the Justice Department would not challenge states’ legalization laws at that time and expected states to have robust enforcement efforts of their own.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in 2018, and told prosecutors to use established prosecutorial principles and their own judgment when prosecuting – or declining to pursue – marijuana charges.
The Justice Department has in general declined to pursue cases where individuals are acting in compliance with state law, and it has not challenged state legalization laws in court.
A Gallup poll conducted in October 2019 found 66% of U.S. adults think the drug should be legal. Just 12% of U.S. adults supported legalization in 1969, according to Gallup – a figure that rose to 31% in 2000 before accelerating above 50% after 2013.’’ Democrats have shown more tendency to support legalization but certain conservatives have gotten behind it as well. Rep. R.J. Kost (R-Powell) said he would support legalization of medical marijuana if a regulatory framework was set up ahead of time.
In this past year’s legislature, a bill was entered that would have legalized, taxed and regulated cannabis for adults, and another piece of legislation would have required the state to study the possible creation of a medical cannabis program. The House neglected to take up either bill before the deadline to do so.
According to the University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center, 85% of Wyoming’s population are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. Seventy-five percent of Wyoming residents support decriminalization and 54% support adult recreational use. Jones disputed the numbers, saying people often don’t understand the wording of the survey they are engaging in.
He said the decision of legalizing marijuana should be left up to state legislators who tend to put in more research before voting than the common man.
“We have people who come to a more informed decision,” he said. “We elect representatives that have the time to research and debate an issue.”