GILLETTE — Petitions are circulating throughout the Cowboy State in support of two ballot initiatives proposing reshaped marijuana legislation in Wyoming. Just over a month into the signature-gathering process, the initiatives are “on track” to potentially make it on the November 2022 ballot.
As of Oct. 24, organizers and volunteers have collected almost 25% of the signatures needed to put the initiatives before voters next November, said Apollo Pazell, a political consultant for the Libertarian Party.
The Libertarian Party and Wyoming NORML, a pro-weed organization, have backed the efforts to collect signatures throughout the state. In Campbell County, former Gillette mayor Frank Latta has helped lead volunteers in signature gathering efforts.
“In Campbell County it’s going a little slower than it has some other places only because there hasn’t been a push yet in Campbell County,” Latta said.
Hot Springs County was the first Wyoming county to collect signatures for 15% of its registered voter base, a feat it accomplished less than a week after petitions started spreading in early September. Since then, Sweetwater, Fremont and Park counties have gotten close to the 15% requirement, Pazell said.
To meet the Secretary of State requirements for ballot placement, organizers need to gather signatures from 15% of the registered voter base in 16 of the 23 Wyoming counties. In all, 41,776 petitions signatures for each initiative are required for ballot placement.
The requisite signatures are needed by Feb. 14 in order to make it on the 2022 ballot. For placement on the 2024 ballot, the signatures need to be in by February 2023.
“As of now, we are on track to be able to make it for the first deadline,” Pazell said.
Despite what Latta considered a slow start, 965 signatures have been collected in Campbell County, which is not one of the 16 counties targeted. The campaign is targeting some of the less populated counties. Given that Campbell County voters aren’t a primary target of the campaign, Pazell said the turnout there has been “fantastic.”
Of the two separate marijuana initiatives up for ballot placement, one calls for decriminalization of marijuana possession, use, cultivation and transfer. It would amend current drug legislation, suggesting reduced fines and punishments for weed charges, while also upping the felony possession threshold from no more than 3 ounces to up to 4 ounces.
The other initiative calls for legalization of medical marijuana. If it makes it to the ballot and passes, it would allow voters to approve or shoot down a plan to implement a regulated medical marijuana framework into Wyoming.
The 41,776 petition signatures required for ballot placement is 15% of the state’s registered voting population.
Organizers are carefully vetting the petitions for legibility, accuracy and to ensure that the signees are registered Wyoming voters.
“We’re taking a lot of precautions to make sure that we have the right number of signatures as well as the requirements that they need,” Latta said.
Latta said that anyone interested in signing the petition in Campbell County can call or text him directly at 307-689-1060. He will arrange for a time and place to meet you with the petition and a pen.
He said that morale is high among the organizers for the petition drives. Compared to past efforts made to reform marijuana legislation in Wyoming, talking marijuana reform has become an easier conversation to have, Latta said.
“Now we can talk about the use of cannabis sitting down at the dinner table at any restaurant in Gillette, Wyoming, and you can sit and talk about that and not feel that you’re causing problems or that you’re advocating illegal use of drugs,” Latta said. “We’re talking about medical marijuana and the conversation has just gone over the hill. It’s amazing how many people will talk to me about that now who were uncomfortable talking about that in 2018.”
Wyoming has been behind the trend of decriminalization and legalization of medical and recreational marijuana that has swept through other states, including neighboring Montana, South Dakota and Colorado.
“It’s going to be legalized federally, it’s going to be legalized in the state. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Latta said that despite Wyoming’s lag in reforming marijuana laws, he thinks the state will get up to speed with other parts of the country.
“I just think it’s an overall feeling in the country and certainly an overall feeling in Wyoming,” Latta said. “This just isn’t right. We need to straighten some of this out.”