Members of the House Judiciary Committee want the entire Wyoming House to debate a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult personal use and establish a regulated retail market, voting 6-3 Friday to send the measure to the floor.
The committee advanced House Bill 209 – Regulation of marijuana after about four hours of testimony from a spectrum of witnesses ranging from the state’s leading libertarian to the former governor of Rhode Island. Depending on the speaker, marijuana is either an addictive substance packaged for and marketed to children whose brains it re-wires, or an adult product less harmful than a beer consumed in leisure times to relax.HB0209
Witnesses ran the gamut from an anti-pot activist to a doctor, a former vice presidential candidate, a convicted drug felon, a medical patient who uses and another patient who wishes he could. The bill would regulate marijuana establishments — from retail shops to greenhouses to transport and testing businesses — and would allow personal cultivation and private use.
Reps. Ember Oakley (R-Riverton) and Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) cast swing votes to advance the bill to the House floor. They didn’t commit to voting for its ultimate passage.
Oakley, a Fremont County prosecutor, said she was torn over the issue and warned of a variety of costs that legal use could bring. Marijuana can’t be prescribed by a doctor, she said underscoring federal prohibitions, so “it’s hard to think we would legalize it.”
Crago, an attorney and rancher, is “against legalizing marijuana,” he said. But after being bombarded by emails both for and against, he said it is time for a whole-House debate.
Opponents raised worries. Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody) voted against the bill “for the sake of preserving the Wyoming family unit,” and in support of law enforcement. Committee member Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper) opposed the bill saying if he were to challenge federal law he would start with the Endangered Species Act, not marijuana prohibitions.
Opponent Dan Laursen (R-Powell) raised questions about hospitalization rates and other issues arising in Colorado from marijuana legalization there.
Co-sponsors Michael Yin (D-Jackson), Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) and Dan Zwonitzer (R- Cheyenne) backed lead sponsor Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne), chairman of the committee. “I’ll be voting for liberty today,” Olsen said as the measure succeeded.
A year in the making
Olsen spent a year crafting the bill, modeling it after Virginia statute, he said. He showed a map of nearby states where marijuana is used under regulations and raised the possibility of federal action to essentially decriminalize the drug “possibly within a year.”
“Then who decides what the regulation of marijuana is like in Wyoming?” Olsen asked.
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