CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Jan. 15, 2016) – Two bills filed in the Wyoming House would significantly ease the state’s marijuana laws, taking a big step toward blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.
Rep. James Byrd (D-Laramie) prefiled House Bill 3 (HB0003) on Dec. 17. The legislation would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Instead of facing criminal charges and possible jail time, a person caught with one ounce of marijuana or less would be subject to a civil fine. Possession of less than a half ounce would be punishable by a $50 fine. Possession of between a half ounce and one ounce would be subject to a $100 fine.
A second bill would further loosen state marijuana laws.
Rep. Byrd, along with Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Natrona) and Rep. Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Crook) prefiled House Bill 7 (HB0007). The legislation would legalize possession of marijuana for anybody holding a valid medical marijuana card from another state. This would allow visitors to the state who use cannabis for medicinal purposes to keep their marijuana with them without fear of arrest.
Despite federal marijuana prohibition, measures such as HB0003 and HB0007 remain perfectly lawful, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of these bills would partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in Wyoming, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any legitimate 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.
While these Wyoming bills would not alter federal law, they would take a step toward thwarting in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, the Wyoming legislature would remove some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-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. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
If the Wyoming legislature passes HB0003 and HB0007, Wyoming would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically ending the ban.
Both bills will be formally introduced and referred to committees during the 2016 legislative session.