One issue that is all over the news in neighboring states Colorado and Montana, which will not be discussed soon in Wyoming, is the legalization of medical marijuana.

Colorado and Montana have given in to the idea of “medical marijuana,” and that has effectively decriminalized the drug. In fact, there are reportedly now more pot stores in metropolitan Denver than liquor stores.

Meanwhile states like Wyoming, Nebraska and Utah view marijuana as a gateway drug, and have pretty harsh penalties for both the possession of and the delivery thereof. Are leaders in Wyoming and these other states wrong?

Not long ago, one prominent former Wyoming drug fighter told me confidentially that it was time for our state to modify its policies. Some of the facts used to support this argument were pretty compelling. However, I am not endorsing this.

My, how the world has changed in the last four years. From 2003 to 2006, our advertising agency, Wyoming Inc., created the state’s first anti-Meth campaign. That experience provided our staff with a tremendous education on drug abuse and treatment alternatives.

The experience made it easy to become anti-drug. In one way, I have come to the conclusion that Wyoming actions toward marijuana have been wrong. The penalties are too stiff.  Some smart medical folks came up with a conclusion over a decade ago called “the disease concept.” This claims addicts are prone from early in their lives to become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

These folks need treatment more than jail time. People with this “disease” should be treated much like someone who has diabetes, heart disease, M.S. or any other chronic disease. It was with this in mind that our neighboring states copied California and Oregon programs where medicinal marijuana was has been available since 1996.

But it has not been a perfect plan in Montana and Colorado.

Recently, Billings Gazette reporter Diane Cochran managed to get a marijuana prescription over the phone in eight minutes. Most Montana residents, especially the conservative ones, became pretty vocal upon reading that news story. Her story generated an astonishing 190 comments to the newspaper.

Cochran is now one of 25,075 Montanans who are eligible to smoke or ingest marijuana legally. She told the doctor that she had a sore back from a fall on a concrete floor 15 years earlier. Another big furor in Montana is that folks discovered a loophole in state law that does not require people participating to even be Montana residents.

South of our border, 86,539 people in Colorado have applied for cards allowing them to purchase medical marijuana (82,944 cards are currently valid). It has become such a big business in Denver, that more than $1 million in special taxes were collected by the city during a recent 12-month period.

Some leaders of Colorado cities and towns have become so upset about the explosion of dispensaries, they had measures on the ballot this November to try to shut them down.

Some Wyoming folks are even getting involved in the Colorado pot bonanza. Scott Mullner, a city council member in Laramie, recently bought the 67-acre organic Szymanski Farm in Boulder County, which news stories say could become one of that state’s largest pot farms.

“I had to do this. It’s the highest and best use as far as farming goes,” Mullner told the Boulder Camera newspaper.

Even national figures are getting into the act.

Conservative political darling Sarah Palin (former governor of Alaska) chimed in on the controversy.  On Fox News, she talked about prioritizing enforcement of marijuana laws, saying that if “somebody’s gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems that we have in society.” Her state is one of 14 that has some kind of medical marijuana program. Another 13 have ballot measures or legislation pending on the issue.

I may not agree with Palin on all of her ideas about marijuana. But the facts seem to indicate there really is a need for effective medical marijuana. It is a fact that the drug helps people who are suffering from some serious diseases.

But the abuses appear to be rampant. Based on the experience in California and Oregon, and more locally, Colorado and Montana, it does not look like anything close to medical marijuana will be happening any time soon here in Wyoming.

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has two books that are available at fine bookstores. He has a Facebook page for William C. Sniffin and his Twitter address is Billwyoming.

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