A marijuana cigarette for sale in a Colorado retail outlet. (Matt Copeland/WyoFile)

Supporters of a sweeping bill to legalize and regulate marijuana anticipate a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, where they hope to dispel myths and stereotypes held by resistant lawmakers.

Twelve representatives and two senators co-sponsored House Bill 209 –  Regulation of marijuana, which would license the cultivation and sale of marijuana and tax cannabis products, including “edibles” and infused drinks. Chief sponsor Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, brought the bill only months after a majority of state residents said they support allowing adults to use marijuana without penalty.

The bill would impose a 30% levy on marijuana sales and generate about $47 million a year in taxes, a state analysis of the measure says. Two thirds of the tax revenue generated annually — $30.7 million — would go to the school foundation fund. The other third — $15.35 million a year — would go to the local government of the jurisdiction in which the sales took place.

The bill would license marijuana “establishments” that grow, test, manufacture, transport or sell marijuana. A “microbusiness” license would allow its holder to both grow and sell marijuana but have no more than 150 pot plants.

Wyoming lawmakers have long resisted legalization of marijuana, but the people they represent last year showed a change of heart. Since 2014, when only 37% of residents supported allowing adults to possess marijuana for personal use, attitudes have shifted. By December last year more than half the state — 54% — were behind legal adult use.

“It’s time,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said.

“I’m pretty conservative, but also a strong libertarian,” Case said. “I’ve decided Rep. Olsen has really done his homework and I’m going to support him. I want it to get serious attention.” 

Revenue for schools

Tax and fee revenue projections are based on Department of Agriculture estimates of 100 cultivation facilities, 50 for manufacturing, 25 for transport, five for testing plus 200 retail stores and 50 microbusinesses.

The bill would allow any adult resident to grow limited amounts of pot and consume it, but not in public.

Marijuana products would have to carry a stamp or symbol indicating the active ingredient, like on these infused candies in Colorado. (Matthew Copeland/WyoFile)

The Department of Agriculture would oversee much of marijuana administration, according to the proposed legislation. It would adopt rules for licenses allowing use of retail marijuana at special events “in limited areas for a limited time.”

Cities, towns and counties could issue licenses for establishments and limit their number. Local governments also could prohibit marijuana establishments if 10% of registered voters petition for a ban.

Towns and counties could not prohibit the transport of marijuana through their jurisdictions. Numerous other provisions would prohibit establishments near schools and such.

Sponsors hope the hearing will set parameters for debate, amendments and adoption.

“I’m not under a lot of illusions it’s going to pass,” Case said of the “pretty comprehensive regulatory package.” Olsen’s bill, however, “may be the most serious framework anybody has done” in Wyoming regarding marijuana legalization and regulation.

Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne), another co-sponsor, was similarly tempered in his expectations. “Unfortunately, I have no higher belief that this bill will become law than [in] any other year,” he said.

“We have far too many in our Legislature that choose to continue to do business the old-fashioned way,” he said. “Our body refuses to acknowledge the changing world and admit that change is coming whether we like it or not.”

The hearing could open the door for deep consideration of the measure, education and advocacy, plus the dismissal of stereotypes and long-held misinformation, supporters said.

“The bill has no chance of getting through the entire process in the next four weeks,” Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) wrote in an email. “I believe it will be used as a starting place for a year-long conversation on understanding the issue, the funding structures, and how Wyoming could regulate [marijuana] within our borders.” 

Rep. Mark Baker (R-Green River), another co-sponsor, is not willing to count the legislation out this year. After a fair hearing in Olsen’s committee, “we’ll have to see what happens after that,” he said.

How much would it generate?

The Legislative Service Office based its revenue estimates on the FY 2020 marijuana sales in Colorado, adjusted for the population of Wyoming. Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) thinks they’re overblown.

“It is a concern to me that the development and growth of government needed to implement this law would likely barely break even in my books,” he wrote. “The increase in local permitting and oversight of a substance similar to alcohol and tobacco is new and foreign to us as a state.

Like other stereotypes, the image of Cheech Marin as a stoner from the 1978 Cheech and Chong movie “Up in Smoke”, has faded. Here he poses with U.W. students during a Chicano cultural program. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

“[B]ut I also believe the people of Wyoming have spoken for long enough about this issue and I believe it’s time to hear them and act.”

People shouldn’t solely focus on the revenue side of the legislation, co-sponsor Baker said. “The taxes are just a small portion of it,” he said.

Not criminalizing citizens, saving court expenses, allowing residents local access to something they’re going to get anyway “would be very attractive — above and beyond any revenue,” he said. “We need to take [marijuana] out of the unregulated market and into the regulated market.

“There has been a stigma associated with the cannabis conversation — people are apprehensive about contacting their legislator,” Baker said. “It’s important to let their legislators’ know they’re not Cheech and Chong. 

Baker has personal testimony. He suffered digestive disorders that required three surgeries and nine transfusions, but found a way to endure in medical marijuana. “My life is much more comfortable with cannabis than without it,” he said.

In addition to Brown, Baker, Olsen, Zwonitzer and Case, co-sponsors are Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) and reps. Michael Yin, (D-Jackson), Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn), Pat Sweeney (R-Casper), John Romero-Martinez (R-Cheyenne), Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie), Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) and Marshall Burt (L-Green River).

Pro-cannabis lobbyist Christine Stenquist acknowledges that Olsen’s measure takes a stride beyond the usual decriminalization approach, which is to start with a baby-step of medical authorization.

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“It definitely has an adult-use feel,” she said of the measure. “It’s a retail bill.

“Conservative types are upset, to say the least,” she said. “They don’t want Colorado,” she said, referring to legalization and its impacts there. Criticism will envision all sorts of woes, including invasion of the Equality State by homeless potheads and other undesirables, she predicted.

“I understand their fears,” she said of lawmakers. “I’m hoping to address those in committee.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Good to see all the support here. Killer substances like tobacco and alcohol are allowed and taxed so banning marijuana makes no sense and may even become a safer substitute for some. I’d rather be around a pot smoker than a drunk any day. Tax the heck out of it, people will pay.

  2. Wyoming GQP legislators may never legalize marijuana because if they did then to them that means the hippies win. And if the hippies win on this issue then it’s a slippery slope to possibly embracing other hippie notions like peace and love.

    Can you imagine the GQP outcry? There is no money in peace and love, they will scream from the rooftops. Better to stick with sure-fire money winners like hate and war, the GQPers will say.

    1. Interesting article. Three points missing here. The first is that many of the figures are “projections” not real-world numbers. In most states that have taxed marijuana, it’s turned out the revenue projections were close to only half of those promised to get legislation passed.

      The second point has to do with actually how much of that revenue is available for spending. What one never sees and is difficult to find are the costs of regulating the industry and paying for increased social costs. It’s not fair just to count revenue without the cost of doing business being deducted. In some states, they spend more on regulation than they receive in revenue.

      Third, one sees the large numbers reflecting taxes collected but doesn’t put it in perspective. When a billion dollars is noted as “collected”, in some charts, one must note it’s the total collection since legalization. A billion dollars over 5 years is only $200 million a year. Big headlines a year ago when Colorado exceeded $1 billion in tax revenue without explanation that it was the total over five years. The other part of this misleading impression is there is no percentage of the contribution of this tax revenue to the overall state budget. In Colorado’s case, this amounts to less than 1% of the total state’s budget, and remember this does not deduct the costs. Hardly a windfall. The tax windfall argument is a myth.

  3. Oregon has decriminalized all drugs. This allows them to save millions by eliminating many unneeded police costs all across the state. All to the good, Meanwhile Poor Wyoming spends millions every year on unneeded expensive “law enforcement” while crying about their budget cuts. Add in the revenue potentially earned with Marijuana legalization, then much of the perceived budget shortfall disappears .
    But all that would make too much fiscal sense, so no worries about it happening in the Wyoming legislature.

  4. Medical marijuana has been legal in Thermopolis since 1973. It is written into the Thermopolis Town Code. On pp. 155-156 of the PDF linked below, after a definition of marijuana, one finds the following under Sec. 11-629:

    “It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess or use the substance herein defined as marijuana unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a medical practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice. (Ord. No. 513, 4/6/73, 2)”

    http://www.townofthermopolis.com/towncode.aspx

    Note that this was written into the Town Code on April 6, 1973.

    I don’t think many people are aware that medical marijuana is legal in Thermop.

    1. No doctor or medical provider is allowed to “prescribe” an illegal drug in the US. No licensed pharmacist is allowed to provide an illegal drug. Medical practitioners in so-called “legal” states can only verify that an individual has a condition as determined by the state legislature that qualifies them to buy and possess the drug.. Doctors who may “recommend” a patient try the drug are risking medical malpractice and loss of their license. You will find few that take that risk.
      Possession of marijuana under any circumstances is illegal in Wyoming. Even in Thermopolis.

  5. I personally suffer from health issues. I’m hoping marijuana becomes legal so I can have some relief from the chronic pain I live daily. The doctors have put me on many medications that do not help with the pain but the side effects from the medication are bad. Please please pass this bill so many people could use it for chronic pain.

  6. As a Wyoming born resident who suffers from nerve pain, I hope that this becomes a reality! What a blessing it would be for those of us who live with pain, but who don’t want to risk being jailed for consuming a plant which has been used for centuries on our planet! Very much in favor of it being decriminalized!

    1. Move to Colorado. Utah works as long as you have a medical reason. Either way, you wouldn’t be terribly far from your current place of residence but Sweetwater County and the state wouldn’t be able to punish you.

      1. Ahh, the old “if you don’t like it, move” argument. Always a “conservative” favorite. How about a libertarian approach: I don’t like it, so I’m gonna change it or just do what I want regardless. That’s where Wyoming differs from Utah. Plus we don’t tax every damn thing we can get our hands on like you all do. Utahns are so Republican, they’re Democrats. lol

        I think this needs to change for Wyoming. Nobody needs to move or figure out a cross-border lifestyle. Marijuana is clearly not the boogeyman people thought it was in the 1980s. It’s a mostly harmless plant. The “regulatory costs” these people are worried about will be offset by the resources freed up when cops start doing actual police work instead aiming for the low hanging pot fruit and courts and jails gain space because they aren’t locking up people who like a plant.

        This is nothing but a win. The lawmakers who oppose this based on crappy “evidence” produced in the 1970s will be summarily thrown out of office.

        1. I spent a lot more in Wyoming than Utah, but it didn’t take long to figure out exactly how resistant to change the Wyoming legislature is. I strongly support change, but given my conversations with lawmakers, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, just providing knowledge to people. Not everyone can afford to wait for decades in hope lawmakers might act.

  7. It was amazing seeing how many elected leaders and members of law enforcement swore up and down the Wyoming constitution mandated citizens were responsible for their own health decisions and stated by law that they couldn’t enforce a mask mandate during the pandemic. That they won’t touch using this philosophy with cannabis show how hypocritical Wyoming public servants are. On a practical level, rejecting an easy source of revenue using templates neighboring states are already using shows why on its current course, the state doesn’t have a future. This bill’s fate is a bellwether for the state’s economy in general.

  8. All for legalization. Most folks that want pot get it anyway and another state gets tax revenue. Seems pretty silly to not legalize when one can go a few miles south and get weed. Also, some comments have suggested weed is addictive, but it’s not chemically addictive. I’ve lived in a bunch of states where weed is legal, not a big deal. Nothing to be afraid of, particularly now that so many states have legalized.

  9. Somewhere Keith Goodenough is pleased.
    The Wyoming Business Council funded the Vertical Harvest greenhouse in Jackson with a $1.5 million grant, under the banner of economic development. The facility, while a success on other fronts (especially as a social service project), has generated no funds for economic development.
    This bill, if passed, could turn the Vertical Greenhouse into the most profitable investment in the history of the Wyoming Business Council. No joke.

  10. Have our legislators studied the effects of chronic marijuana use on the Colorado health system? Unemployment system? Family welfare system?

      1. What a ridiculous response. Guess what? There are many, many “mind-altering” drugs that are currently legal in Wyoming. Have you heard of alcohol? How about the litany of opioids that are prescribed daily by doctors around the state? Marijuana is much safer and milder than any of those.

        How about you do some research into the topic instead of having an ill-informed blinders view? Maybe let adults make their own choices on what they put in their body? Criminalizing a plant isn’t stopping those who need or want to use it from using it. It’s just making potential criminals out of them due to the current laws in place.

      2. Marion –
        What are your parallel concerns with Alcohol as a mind altering, society disrupting substance ? Just curious.

    1. Wanda-
      I would ask the very same query about Alcohol that you pose about Cannabis?

      (Slightly rejigged) “Is the Wyoming legislature ignoring the effects of chronic alcohol abuse on Wyoming health care system, law enforcement, traffic injuries and deaths , the prison system , unemployment and productivity , Family Services ,

      The last I looked, pot smokers do not crash their cars, beat their wives and kids , get in bar fights, miss work with the ” Jack Daniels flu ” , play with guns , or generally disrupt society-at-large by behaving really badly .

      It’s almost as if you are saying the Legislature’s mantra is ” Pot bad. Booze a Godsend for these troubled times in a hard state…” or something like that…

  11. Make no mistake about it, this is not a political issue but a public health issue. The billion-dollar marijuana lobby has followed the “big tobacco” playbook for decades. First rule? Make your product seem harmless, even beneficial (medical anyone?). Name me one other drug that is approved by legislators and the public but not the FDA nor the greater medical community? The litany of benefits, eliminate the black market, tax windfall, decriminalization, reduce jail populations, a boon to farmers, and on and on, without listing the downsides and falsities of those claims misleads the voters as intended.

    As the article states “Pro-cannabis lobbyist Christine Stenquist acknowledges that Olsen’s measure takes a stride beyond the usual decriminalization approach, which is to start with a baby-step of medical authorization. “It definitely has an adult-use feel,” she said of the measure. “It’s a retail bill.” Can’t believe she admits it. It’s basically about getting high, enriching the producers at the expense of public health. The state should not be complicit in legalizing addictive substances.

    1. I’ll take potheads over drunks any day . All days. And nights.

      I was a bartender in a cowboy saloon in Meeteetse for two years during an oil boom. The entire gamut of legal and illegal controled substances was present from crank weed speed and coke all the way past every shiny bottle and aluminum can of booze on the shelf to those heinous addictive substances sold under the brand of Marlboro cigs and Tombstone pizza. I even knew a tool pusher addicted to pickled eggs out of a glass jar I kept replenishing just for him. His intake of Huevos de escebeche had to be seen to be believe. I’m sure he is dead now from a twisted gut complicated by cirrhosis. Drug use takes many shapes and forms. So does hypocrisy.

      I agree we have a public health aspect to cannabis. Chronic users of cannabis are generally healthier . They don’t crash their cars, play with guns, beat their wives and kids, miss work , or think they are bullet proof or secretly Superman,

      Reefer Madness used to be just a silly propaganda movie from the 1930’s . Now I fear it is a pandemic that warps the minds of conservative leaders and cops.

    2. RE: “The litany of benefits, eliminate the black market, tax windfall, decriminalization, reduce jail populations, a boon to farmers, and on and on, without listing the downsides and falsities of those claims misleads the voters as intended. ”

      Correct. Downsides are numerous. I would guess that the public is fully aware of them. It has been an illegal drug for decades for many reasons, some political. Do the benefits outweigh the downsides? Probably. Can the downsides be properly addressed? Unlikely, just as with booze. Do we put on heads in the sand and pretend that most Americans haven’t use the drug? Or that the majority of young people won’t experiment with the drug with or without legalization in Wyoming? Prohibition didn’t work. Pot laws haven’t worked either.

      But yes. Do remind people of the downsides. No reason that the tax dollars saved and raised can’t be used for treatment, education, and interdiction if the need arises for some individuals.

  12. Nice work Rep. Olsen. I agree that it has a slim chance of passing, but hopefully this provides a spark to get our Legislature out of the Dark Ages. Cannabis has so many benefits; it’s a shame our residents have to avoid it or utilize it with the fear that the law will be knocking on your door to throw you in the slammer.

    I’d like to understand the 10% petition part of the bill better. This sounds like a sure fire way to allow a very small minority to have say over the majority. I doubt there is a County in this State that couldn’t get 10% of registered voters to sign a petition banning it. But that’s Wyoming for you…the image of the cowboy riding his horse with a flask on his side headed home to drink a case of Coors is an iconic…but don’t you dare allow that devil’s lettuce into MY county!

  13. Tip our hats to rep Olsen for his considered effort to dispel misinformation and present an accurate lay of the land of weed legalization in our great state.

    Let me get this straight. can have as many AR’s as we want, wasn’t too long ago a few bars around had a drive through window for cocktails to go, but we, as adults, can’t enjoy the latest herb engineering in privacy of our own home.

    Let’s hope our state representatives give this serious evaluation now. Beyond the tax benefit, which no way will come close to CO, think of if the explosion of fast food restaurant choices that will vying for locations throughout the state, with late night hours of operation.

    With 14 other states already breaking trail, we could certainly cherry pick the best practices and develop a way forward that addresses the major concerns.

    Too many closet crunchies in our state not to have more public support.

  14. I had a friend with kidney disease who moved from Casper to Fort Collins to have legal access to marijuana. He said it alleviated the terrible itching caused by the disease.

    Before the move he obtained his pot illegally,

    It’s time to get marijuana out of the black market and at the same time produce needed state revenue. We do it with alcohol, a drug generally recognized to be behind more social ills.

    This is true economic diversification.