Members of the Wyoming House killed a bill to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move shows the state remains aloof from the growing national momentum to decriminalize the drug.
Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) sponsored House Bill 29, which won initial approval from the House Judiciary Committee. The House voted down the bill Wednesday afternoon, with 22 in favor and 38 opposed.
Byrd brought the measure to the Legislature amid the growing number of convictions resulting from Wyoming residents transporting marijuana across the border from Colorado, where the drug is legal.
Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), a professor at the University of Wyoming, said marijuana arrests in campus dormitories have quadrupled since Colorado legalized marijuana. The campus is an hours’ drive north of Fort Collins, Colo. Nonresidents are limited to buying a quarter ounce of marijuana or less in Colorado, but it is illegal to transport across state lines.
Those who opposed the bill called it a gateway drug. “The social costs are tremendous. They are out of sight,” said Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell), chairwoman of the House Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee.
“I worry about the signal this sends,” said Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie) argued that possession of less than three ounces of marijuana can result in a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Rep. Stan Blake (D-Green River) pointed to a fiscal note showing a year of incarceration costs the state $45,625.
“Alcohol is the biggest gateway drug,” said Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance). “I don’t see any bills about that.”
Lawmakers adopted an amendment during floor debate to increase the financial penalties for possession. Those voting in favor of the bill included a mixture of Democrats and both moderate and conservative Republicans.
Find the record of votes here.