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Cheyenne City Council OKs cannabis decriminalization resolution; seeks statewide support

(Unsplash / JeffW)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The capital city is officially in favor of decriminalizing cannabis in Wyoming.

During the Cheyenne City Council’s evening meeting, councilmembers voted 5–2 to adopt a resolution that would encourage statewide efforts to decriminalize marijuana and reform the Wyoming Controlled Substance Act. The city can now present the resolution to the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, or WAM, and elicit sponsorship endorsements and support from other councilmembers and state legislators.

Marijuana in Wyoming

The decriminalization of cannabis is a nationwide movement that has yet to make it to Wyoming’s doorsteps. In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement, or MORE, Act, which would eliminate criminal penalties for anyone who manufactures, distributes or possesses marijuana.

Wyoming is one of four states — alongside Idaho, Kansas and South Dakota — where both recreational and medicinal marijuana usage are illegal. The Cowboy State also belongs to a small majority of states that impose fines and jail time for residents who possess less than an ounce of marijuana.

According to the 2020 Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center conducted by the University of Wyoming, 54% of residents say they support allowing adults in Wyoming to legally possess cannabis for personal use, and 85% of residents say they support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.

Multiple pro-marijuana bills have made their way into the Legislative Session, but none were passed. House Bill 106 in 2022, for instance, would have decriminalized the adult possession of up to three ounces of cannabis flower, up to 16 ounces of solid-form products — including edibles, ointments and tinctures — 72 ounces of liquids and up to 30 grams of concentrates. House Bill 143 would have established the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act of 2022, allowing the state to grow and distribute medical marijuana.

Local efforts

In March, Councilmember Richard Johnson sponsored an ordinance aimed at repealing penalties for marijuana possession in Cheyenne. The ordinance, which failed to pass on second reading, would have prevented police officers from sending drug paraphernalia tickets to the local court. Residents charged with marijuana-related cases would have also been sent to the district or federal court instead of the City Attorney’s Office. Some councilmembers questioned the practicability of the ordinance and said efforts to decriminalize marijuana should be discussed at the state level.

Johnson said the resolution, which he also sponsored, took their concerns into consideration. Members of the Public Service Committee expressed their disapproval at the idea at their Aug. 8 meeting, but agreed to move it forward so the council could discuss it as a whole.

During this evening’s meeting, two community members came forward to offer their opinions on the resolution.

Zach Padilla, a Jackson resident and member of the Teton County Libertarian Party, said he is in favor of any efforts to decriminalize marijuana. Padilla, who also owns a winery business with a Cheyenne location, said marijuana is a “beautiful alternative” for those who suffer from opioid addictions or alcoholism. He also believes that Wyoming’s police force is overworked and understaffed, and should not spend its time prosecuting marijuana-related crimes.

“There is no reason why our police officers should be out prosecuting nonviolent offenders,” he said during the meeting. “We have much bigger issues to face.”

Padilla said all municipalities should pass similar resolutions.

“I’m blown away that Jackson has not considered having this conversation, but you guys are,” he said.

While Padilla expressed his support, Cheyenne resident Cathy Deister said she is against the resolution. Deister said Colorado Springs, where she used to live, legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana usage. Deister saw “giant changes” in the city after the legalization, and read that crime rates and safety concerns increased. She doesn’t want the same thing to happen in Wyoming.

However, according to the City of Colorado Springs, it opted out of the sale of recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is allowed to be produced and sold to registered medical marijuana patients through licensed medial dispensaries.

“I don’t think we should dictate to the state how they should do things on the state level when we’re a city,” Deister said during the meeting. “Seeing how it’s not going to benefit even Colorado … it doesn’t help them.”

Council discussion

Following their comments, Johnson said Cheyenne is not the first municipality to support marijuana reform. He pointed out how in January, the Casper City Council expressed its desire to bring the issue to the Legislative Session. The topic was also brought up in WAM in June, and failed to be considered for the 2024 Legislative Session by only one vote. Johnson added that requests to decriminalize marijuana are not single-sponsored, and several legislatures are in favor of the city’s resolution.

“Even if it fails tonight, I do have other avenues to bring this forward,” he said, “but it’s always helpful for the legislature to know exactly where the city stands and what the majority looks like.”

Councilmember Mark Rinne said he has “strong reservations” about decriminalizing marijuana, but is in favor of the resolution because it will elevate those conversations to the state level.

“If that’s our opinion, that it should be dealt on a statewide basis rather than a community basis, then I’ll support it for that reason,” he said.

While a majority of the council supported the resolution, Councilmembers Tom Segrave and Michelle Aldrich voted against.

Aldrich said councilmembers have already listened to hours of public testimony about decriminalizing marijuana during the March ordinance. If the council voted against local decriminalizing efforts, they shouldn’t be the ones suggesting the change at the state level, she said.

“We voted as a council against decriminalization to happen in our community,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t think we need to be sending this on to the legislature; they are very well aware of it.”

Clarification, Aug. 16, 2023: The City of Colorado Springs opted out of the sale of recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is allowed to be produced and sold to registered medical marijuana patients through licensed medial dispensaries. This information has been added to the story.