Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) sponsored House Bill 29 - Marihuana possession. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile.com)

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.

Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. Under three strikes by bill clinton + Newt gingrich, the usa has 5% of the worlds population, yet we have 25% incarcerated for minor things like a m.j. smoke, costing taxpayers about $45 Billion per year to lock up non violent offenders. at the very least it should be decriminalized. $45 billion to (for profit) prisons/jails mostly owned by rich republcan groups + about $90 Billion per year for the s.w. border (perhaps other border areas). if we ended the profit motive for the violent drug cartels by legalizing, regulation & taxing, we could do a lot more with about 145 billion towards teaching people new skills, tech jobs now and into the future. All the leading world wide experts agree the “war on drugs” is a dismal ((multi billion dollar if not Trillion dollar)) tax payer funded failure started by Nixson about 1970 or so. Those that make and use Meth, Heroin, Cocaine, should be treated as a medical problem. The psychotic effects of Meth make the users very dangerous vs a laid back m.j. person. Meth Heads should be the ones incarcerated with strict rehab and i do not mean a patty cake treatment program. Why is the american soul so dead that so many crave to alter their reality with drugs? — did they sell their souls to the devil by back stabbing deals that are so much a part of everyday business deals to out do or do in the other person in the cut throat world to get the coveted all mighty dollar at any cost?

  2. In this day and age of limitless information, along with the ability to educate oneself with a click of a mouse, the fact that our lawmakers make no effort to LEARN appalls me. Gateway? Come on…for a long time I thought alcohol was the gateway…after doing a bit of research my mind was changed about that. Now, I believe the lies our government has fed to us and our children are the true gateways.

    Pam Revell-Wright

  3. Every city in Wyoming has an alternate “Shadow world”, where we buy, sell, & trade. Do your worst, those that smoke will do it, whether it be legal or not . The “Shadow” state of Wyoming is doing well and will wait for “the blind to see”.

    Edward Pedro