Wyoming Bill Would Put the Question of Marijuana Legalization to the Voters, Set Stage to Block Federal Prohibition

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Mar. 1, 2017) – A Wyoming bill would allow voters to legalize recreational marijuana in the state through a constitutional amendment ballot measure. Passage would set the stage to effectively thwart in practice the unconstitutional federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) and Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs), House Joint Resolution 11 (HJ11) would allow voters to “amend the Wyoming Constitution to permit the cultivation, manufacture, use, possession and sale of cannabis for persons twenty-one (21) years of age or older and to provide for the taxation, regulation and inspection thereof.”

The bill would create a new section of the state constitution to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana for individuals aged 21 or older. The following language would be added to the state constitution:

"The use and possession of up to three (3) ounces plant or five hundred (500) milligrams extracted cannabis, the cultivation in the home of up to six (6) plants, up to three (3) of which may be mature, and the possession in the home of all cannabis derived from such plants shall be allowed in the state of Wyoming for persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older…

No laws or regulation shall prohibit the operation of cannabis establishments, either expressly or by making their operation unreasonably impracticable."

The legislature would be tasked with making the rules and regulations regarding recreational marijuana to protect “individual freedom and privacy with respect to the use, cultivation and other noncommercial conduct.” An excise tax would be levied on retail marijuana commerce with the first $20 million of the taxes collected going to fund public schools.

Because HJ11 is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, it will need two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate to proceed. At that point, the measure would bypass the governor completely and be considered by the people. The voters would ultimately make the decision during the Nov. 2018 midterm election.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as HJ11 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Full legalization of recreational marijuana in Wyoming would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Wyoming sweeps away much of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Wyoming could join a growing number states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and blocking it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

HJ11 will need to receive its committee assignment before it can be considered by the full House. Stay in touch with our Tenther Blog and our Tracking and Action Center for the latest updates.