Thirty years ago, Kemmerer native Madonna Long’s life changed forever.

Long, then a senior at Kemmerer High School, was one of 38 passengers in a school bus returning from a ski club trip in Utah. The driver lost control, resulting in a devastating accident that killed two people. 

Long was critically injured in the crash, leaving her paralyzed and prone to spasms.

Eventually, she turned to medical marijuana to treat her spasms. Since then, Long has become a leading advocate for medical marijuana legalization. That includes her home state of Wyoming, one of just 13 states without medicinal or decriminalized cannabis.

Long was among several dozen people to deliver paperwork to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office on June 11 announcing their intent to pursue two ballot initiatives to legalize medical cannabis and decriminalize its recreational use.

If successful, the signature drive would allow Wyoming voters to decide whether they want to pursue legalization, rather than leaving it up to the Wyoming Legislature. Several legislative attempts have stalled out. 

Advocates say it will be a significant victory for cannabis-using patients in a state that currently prescribes some of the nation’s strictest penalties for users, particularly as Wyoming is now surrounded by states that have already legalized its use.

“Medical marijuana has been such a great treatment for a lot of people like me and people all around Wyoming,” Long said. “This is a people’s act, and the people will pass this.”

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

A long road ahead

Advocates likely face an uphill battle. Ballot initiatives are notoriously difficult to pass in Wyoming, which maintains high signature requirement thresholds. To make the ballot, petitioners must gather a number of signatures equal to 15% of voters who voted in the previous election in at least 15 counties. Those signatures then must be verified and, ultimately, affirmed by state elections officials.

Wyoming has failed to even consider a ballot initiative — much less pass one — in roughly three decades.

The task will likely be more difficult in 2022. After the record turnout for the 2020 presidential election, a ballot initiative effort will now require nearly 42,000 signatures statewide to be successful, approximately 38% more than were required after the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Unlike efforts by local activists to get marijuana on the ballot in 2016 and 2018, however, advocates will have help this time around. In addition to longstanding marijuana advocacy groups like NORML, the effort will be assisted with backing from the National Libertarian Party as well as groups like the Utah-based organization Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE — which helped advance a medical marijuana program there.

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The leaders of both organizations attended the Cheyenne rally on June 11.

Nationally, the ballot initiative approach has been the most successful method for legalization. Of the 36 states to legalize medical marijuana, 19 did so through citizen-initiated ballot measures, while 13 of the 17 states to legalize recreational marijuana accomplished legalization through a ballot measure.

Apollo Pazell, a political consultant working with the Libertarian National Committee, said the party plans to offer legal and institutional support for the ballot initiative, as well as assistance in organizing several political action committees committed to galvanizing public support for the measure. These PACs, he said, will target groups like law enforcement, patients and political organizations.

“All we’re doing is providing support to what they are doing,” Pazell said. “They will do all the political work involved in building the campaign. They’ll do all the radio ads, all that stuff. We’re just going to be supporting door knockers and canvassers to make sure it gets on the ballot.”

From left, National Libertarian Party Executive Director Tyler Harris, Libertariann Party Chairman Joe Bishop Henchman and Wyoming Rep. Marshall Burt (L-Green River) stand on the steps of the Wyoming Capitol at a marijuana legalization rally in Cheyenne on June 11, 2021. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

Public support

Advocates believe there is sufficient support to pass the measure should it get on the ballot. A December 2020 poll conducted by the University of Wyoming showed a significant majority of Wyoming voters in support of legalizing medical cannabis, with a slim majority in support of its use for recreational purposes. And in the 2021 legislative session, a legalization effort led by a tripartisan coalition in the Wyoming Legislature managed to pass committee before ultimately failing.

Freshman Rep. Marshall Burt (L-Green River), a co-sponsor of the failed House Bill 209 – Regulation of marijuana, said that outcome helped prompt advocates to pursue a ballot initiative.

“The Legislature knows that this is coming,” he said at the rally. “During the session when we talked about the bill, we let them know if we didn’t pass [HB] 209 that the next measure was to take the ballot initiative to the people.”

The Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, which has previously run public awareness campaigns arguing there is “No Debate” about marijuana use, said it is likely to revive similar initiatives to counter the legalization effort.

“We have not had a conversation on the new initiatives, yet,” WASCOP director Byron Oedekoeven wrote in an email. “I would imagine we will again offer factual education material as we have in the past around the harmful effects and the newer style of marijuana products.”

Proponents for legalization are confident in their ability to gather the necessary signatures in time for the 2022 election cycle.

“We will have people on the streets. And we will collect signatures,” Burt said. “And then when the time comes at the next election cycle for 2022, we will allow the citizens of Wyoming to carry their voice, either in support or against.”

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  1. Frankly it is amazing that we still have supposedly intelligent folks opposed to medical Marijuana at all much less the recreational stuff. You have to look at the profit margins of other people and companies would lose if Marijuana was legalized. Just two great examples would be all the unneeded law enforcement that exists in this state and the reduced alcohol purchases that will result once Marijuana does become legal here.

  2. “We have not had a conversation on the new initiatives, yet,” WASCOP director Byron Oedekoeven wrote in an email. “I would imagine we will again offer factual education material as we have in the past around the harmful effects and the newer style of marijuana products.”

    The facts are clear, prohibition caused an absolute crime wave in America and so we stupidly doubled down on it with the Drug War, which has eroded our right to privacy as well as ruining untold numbers of lives. America’s Drug War is responsible for the narco terrorism worldwide as well as the war in Afghanistan, but sure make a naturally concurring plant illegal.

    Man made drugs like Meth are a far bigger problem and those drugs should remain illegal, while making plants legal will generate revenue and reduce work loads so the police may help eradicate the real menaces to society.. Byron needs to get some real facts instead running a distorted and disingenuous campaign against a plant.

    I wonder if Susan Gore funds WASCOP?

    1. Well said, Greg.
      Anyone who has lived around alcoholics and meth heads has seen how low people can sink and how destructive they can be.
      I hope to never see the violence and malice those drugs trigger in people ever again.
      That said…. I have been around a large variety of people and seen a lot of different drug use. Pharmaceutical opiates and meth are a scourge. I lost someone close to me to one. I’ve seen people destroy their lives with the other.
      Pot is not in the same league. Is it good for everyone? No. It can be psychologically addictive and for some people it can remove incentives and leave them listless.
      Kids are getting it on the street as we speak and dealing it. This is a problem.
      Legal ways to purchase safely grown and retailed products would cut off the adult customer base for illegal dealing. It would also deliver a revenue stream and tax base to a state economy that is badly in need of diversification.
      Many residents like me will not purchase illegally, but would gladly pay taxes on a medical solution to certain conditions.
      Pharmaceutical drugs are not the answer for everything and you can be certain that those corporations are fighting the legalization effort.
      My two cents.

      1. Thanks Bob and I find those that can say this “I have been around a large variety of people and seen a lot of different drug use.”; have a much more nuanced view of drug use than those that claim never to have used drugs.

        I have seen a great deal of drug use and I lost my brother in law to heroin in 1999, and after all my studies the one thing is clear that society cannot legislate against something people want, they can only attempt to mitigate the damage that addiction or impairment causes. As I study it further, I also came to correct conclusion (IMHO) that synthesized products like Meth are far worse than naturally occurring plants.. So as a stimulant Coca Leavers or Cocaine are far better than Meth and the evidence is out there. I have seen alcohol and cocaine use in my family and by far cocaine is “better” than alcohol if you are addicted.

        I would also contend that had opium been legalized, regulated and taxed 100 years ago, the Sacklers and the opioid/heroin epidemic would not have happened. Opium was run out of America due to racism against the Chinese, which Sen. Nethercott reminded me of when she related a historical fact about a raid on an opium den in New Castle Wyoming before the territory became a state.

        America’s war on drugs has been a disaster and a waste, but those that have never been up close to drugs, until it is too late, are afraid to change course by offering a more humane solution.

        1. I was not aware of that piece of Newcastle history. Thank you.
          People should look at the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion to understand more about the complex issues regarding China and the 19th century U.S. It was Britain that spread opium addiction among the Chinese and now China is shipping fentanyl into the U.S. with similar goals. History rhymes, so we must know the past.