The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 on Friday to advance a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana in Wyoming.
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Laramie, is the committee’s chairman and the primary sponsor of the 122-page bill that would generally allow people over 21 years of age to possess and cultivate the plant. House Bill 209 would also give businesses the green light to produce and sell marijuana in Wyoming so long as the operation is fully in-state, and would tax retail sales at 30%.
The Legislative Service Office estimated that legalization would cause the state to lose roughly $350,000 a year in seizures from cannabis-related crimes but gain around $48 million annually. Roughly two-thirds of that would be allocated to schools, and the other third would flow to towns and counties that collect the taxes.
The U.S. government lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug but, amid the broader push nationwide to legalize or decrease penalties for possessing the plant, Wyoming is one of only six states where it remains fully illegal. Olsen, who asserted he was not a “marijuana advocate,” pitched the bill as a way to get out ahead of a possible ballot initiative to legalize pot — a University of Wyoming survey found that 54% of Wyomingites support legalization — or descheduling at the federal level.
“I believe that those realities are real,” Olsen said. “I bring a solution in an attempt to put our hands around it and decide what we want it to look like.”
Supporters argued that cannabis has medical benefits and that people should have the freedom to smoke pot if they want to. They say legalization could be an economic boon and could allow some low-level offenders to have marijuana-related crimes expunged from their records.
Opponents worried that legalization could increase use among teens and lead to more drug and alcohol problems and more DUIs. They also worried about the potential long-term impacts marijuana could have on users and whether getting out ahead of the federal government could cause headaches.
Rep. Mike Yin, D-Teton, voted for the bill, which will need to be approved by the state House and Senate to become law.
How far it will go remains to be seen. Two of the six representatives who voted in favor of the measure seemed likely to oppose it eventually, but moved it forward because they felt it should be heard by the rest of the Wyoming House.