Groups pursue pot initiatives for election

CASPER — The state and national Libertarian Party as well as Wyoming community leaders will deliver two marijuana ballot initiatives to the Wyoming secretary of state Friday.

The ballot initiatives are aimed at legalizing medical cannabis and decriminalizing personal use of cannabis, according to a news release.

“We’ve listened to the concerns of conservatives and the needs of patients and veterans and we’ve really tried to balance the initiative that’s beneficial for all stakeholders,” said Apollo Pazell, chief strategist for the national Libertarian Party.

The group plans to have petitioners on the ground throughout this summer and fall and have the signatures needed to get it on the ballot collected by July 31, 2022. The effort is using more than volunteers; the leaders plan to “employ full-time teams on the ground for the next 18 months,” Pazell said.

“The Libertarians are super organized and motivated, and they will provide the professional boots on the ground that we lacked the last time that we ran a petition,” said Bennett Sondeno, treasurer of the Wyoming chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

In 2018, a medical marijuana initiative failed to go out to voters because the secretary of state’s office did not receive the signatures by the deadline.

The signature requirement of 15 percent of the previous election’s votes is the highest in the country, according to Ballotpedia. And petitioners also need to secure signatures of 15 percent of the qualified voters in at least two-thirds of Wyoming’s 23 counties.

“The reality of Wyoming’s rural nature is going to be the biggest challenge to get signatures,” Pazell said. “I’m confident that we will get the certification to get it on the ballot.”

If organizers are successful in advancing the measures, they still require over 50 percent of total voters in the election to vote to affirm the measure.

While organizers will face logistical challenges, support for marijuana legalization has been growing in the state.

A University of Wyoming study from December shows more than half of residents support legalizing it for recreational use, and 85 percent are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

During the legislative session earlier this year, a pair of bills — one that would have authorized a study on medical marijuana and another aimed at full legalization — died without a hearing in the House. Both passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a 6-3 vote.

Wyoming is one of just six states where marijuana use and possession are still entirely illegal.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, who sponsored the legalization bill, estimated that the state would generate around $50 million in tax revenue during the first year of legalization. Opponents to the bill said it would be hard to regulate dosages and warned of expensive upfront infrastructure costs.