Monday, January 26, 2015

It's time for Wyoming to get serious about marijuana policies

It’s time for Wyoming lawmakers to have a serious conversation about enacting sensible reforms when it comes to our state’s marijuana policies.

A great place to start is House Bill 0029, which would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This proposal would impose a civil, not criminal, penalty with a fine of up to $100 for a first or second offense. Reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession would prevent thousands of people from becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system. Convictions for possessing even small amounts of marijuana can follow people throughout their lives. There are substantial long-term consequences to these charges, including potentially being disqualified from student financial-aid eligibility, loss of employment, veteran’s benefits, and incarceration. What we have now is a situation where the punishment simply doesn’t reflect the conduct. 

A recent survey conducted by the University of Wyoming found that 62 percent of Wyomingites surveyed believe the penalty for marijuana possession should not include jail time. Decriminalization policies keep people out of jail and would eliminate many of the collateral consequences that flow from marijuana arrests, thereby reducing the gross number of people entering the criminal justice system.

Decriminalization also makes fiscal sense. According to the Bureau of Justice and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Wyoming spent $9.1 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. That year, Wyoming made 2,254 total arrests for marijuana; 93 percent of those were for possession of a small amount, not for the manufacture or sale of marijuana.

Wyoming is surrounded by states that have enacted different types of reforms. Nebraska is one of 15 states that fine, instead of jail, individuals found in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Colorado and Washington are now joined by Alaska and Oregon in fully legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. It’s time for Wyoming to pass practical reforms, too.

Ryan Frost
Program Coordinator
ACLU of Wyoming

(As originally run in the Casper Star Tribune and Wyoming Tribune Eagle on 1/18/15)