Cheyenne Could Be Wyoming’s First City For Marijuana Decriminalizer!
At a meeting next week, the Cheyenne City Council may be the first in the state to talk about decriminalizing marijuana if it talks about a proposal from the council president, Richard Johnson. Johnson said he plans to bring a new ordinance proposal that would cut the city’s drug paraphernalia laws from about seven pages to just two paragraphs.
People caught with less than 3 marijuana ounces in city limits would be affected by the plan. Laws for all other controlled substances would stay the same, and it would still be against the law to deliver or plan to deliver marijuana in any situation. Specifics about the amount of the drug and possible fines for people caught with it still need to be worked out.
Johnson told that the main reason he wants to decriminalize marijuana is to save money for Wyoming’s capital city on fines and attorney fees that aren’t needed. He said that marijuana charges are usually minor offenses on a “grocery list” of charges that are thrown out of court anyway because of plea deals.
This, he said, leads to excessive municipal court service charges and attorney costs. He said, “It will prevent money from going to court.” “If people truly take their charges to court, this same city must pay its prosecutor to handle those cases,” Johnson said that the cost of the case could go up if the defendant asks for a jury trial.
Johnson also said that he thinks the drug can help with health problems like glaucoma and pain relief. He said that he knows a lot of people from Cheyenne, including pastors, who go to Colorado to buy marijuana legally and then bring it back to Wyoming to use it illegally.
Johnson desires individuals to be aware that they won’t be breaking the law if they eat or drink something they bought legally somewhere else and bring it back into the city limits of Cheyenne. But he also said that police officers who find people with marijuana in the city limits of Cheyenne would still be able to charge them with a state crime, even though it would take a lot more paperwork than it does now for a municipal crime.
Even though the Cheyenne Police Department is officially neutral on the issue, Johnson said he has heard that the department is against decriminalizing marijuana. Johnson said that decriminalization is not the same as legalizing marijuana, and that is a totally different issue that the Wyoming Legislature needs to deal with.
Not Likely To Pass
Johnson said he doesn’t think his plan will be approved. He knows of only one other member of the nine-person council, Scott Roybal, who supports the measure. If necessary, Mayor Patrick Collins has a 10th vote, but Johnson said he doesn’t think the mayor will support making pot legal in the city.
But Johnson may have more supporters than he thinks. Recent polls showed that most people in Wyoming want to legalize marijuana, and council member Ken Esquibel told that he will support the idea.
“I think it would be better to give a ticket instead of a summons for some of these minor offenses,” he said. “Our local court is backed up with people who committed small crimes that didn’t hurt anyone but themselves.” Johnson’s main goal is to have a good conversation about the issue.
He said that people have been talking to him about the problem since 2015, and he’d like to “put an end” to it by telling them that it was talked about. He thinks that a lot of people who support marijuana will show up to the meeting on Wednesday, but he also wants people who are against it to show that the issue isn’t all one way or the other.
Richard Johnson added that he thinks a few state lawmakers will be there as well. “It’s great because it starts a conversation,” he said. But a discussion on decriminalization isn’t guaranteed. At least one other member would have to support a motion to talk about the idea, which Johnson doesn’t think will be a big problem.
In recent years, there have been a few attempts at different levels in the Wyoming House of Representatives to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, but none have come close to passing. Between 2021 and 2022, there were also efforts to put a question on the ballot to make medical marijuana legal and another to stop punishing small amounts of cannabis.
Wyoming NORML, a group that supports marijuana legalization, said earlier this month that even though its staff got enough signatures to meet statewide threshold values for each initiative, they didn’t get enough signatures in two-thirds of the state’s counties to meet a requirement.
In a press release from March 1, the group said it would “continue to work with legislators during the next session to bring bills to the floor that use the language of each initiative.” Johnson said that members of the Casper City Council have also shown interest in the topic and told him they’re willing to consider decriminalization if Cheyenne passed a measure first.
As of now, 21 states have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Marijuana Policy Project said in February that the drug is no longer illegal in 31 states and the District of Columbia, but that it is still illegal in two states.
54% of state residents encourage marijuana legalization for personal use, according to a 2020 University of Wyoming survey. This is up from 37% in the same survey in 2014. The survey also found that 85% of people in Wyoming want medical marijuana to be legalized.
Johnson said that state law says the city can’t put out its own poll about the issue. He said he would rather follow the lead of states like Nebraska and Utah, which are more conservative than Colorado. He talked about how the city of Wichita, Kansas, just passed a law making marijuana less illegal.
President Joe Biden has said that he will pardon everyone convicted of a federal crime for simple possession of marijuana in 2022. He has also asked governors to do the same thing under their own state laws.
The city council meeting on Wednesday will start at 6 p.m. Johnson said that the issue will be discussed again on March 27. If it passes a second reading, which he doesn’t think it will, the issue will be put to a final vote at one more meeting before it becomes a new law for the city of Cheyenne.