CHEYENNE — A bill that would fully legalize marijuana in Wyoming has cleared a critical vote, raising the possibility of dispensaries along the border with Utah.
While it could give Utahns yet another reason to run to Evanston — a popular stop for discount liquor, fireworks and lottery tickets — the border city's mayor admits he has some heartburn about it.
"We really just don’t know yet," said Mayor Kent Williams. "Should we do that? Should we not do that?"
The Wyoming State Legislature's House Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 on Friday in support of House Bill 209. The bill now heads to the full House of Representatives for debate.
"House Bill 209 would allow for possession and cultivation of marijuana for individuals as follows: It allows for possession of retail marijuana at legal age of 21," House Majority Whip Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said when presenting the bill.
The bill slaps a 30% tax on marijuana products — something that a fiscal note attached to the bill said could make the state of Wyoming as much as $47 million in its first year.
The bill goes further than other pieces of legislation that were under consideration in the Wyoming State Legislature. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee did not even vote on Rep. Bill Henderson's House Bill 82 that would have only implemented a study on whether Wyoming ought to legalize medical cannabis only.
"The people of Wyoming are increasingly supportive of medical marijuana, and so to me, it makes good sense and if we want to develop good policy, to do due diligence," said Rep. Henderson, R-Cheyenne.
Marijuana bills are being pushed by medical cannabis advocates in Wyoming. As FOX 13 reported last month, Christine Stenquist — one of the original backers of Utah's medical cannabis ballot initiative — is in Cheyenne working with them to get the bills passed.
"The bill definitely needs some amendments, it needs some work," she said Monday. "But it’s positive."
HB209 also allows communities to opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales. Mayor Williams said he does not personally support legalized marijuana, but pointed out the bill has a long way to go to get through the legislature.
"This is not something that I’m about and so I’ve got concerns," he told FOX 13. "But again, I say that knowing that at the same time I’ve got to protect individual rights."
"Believe me, they will get a pretty penny from Utah. We are very frustrated with our program and we look at states that have a little more flexibility, they’ll definitely get our dollars," Stenquist said, referencing Utah's highly-regulated medical cannabis program.
Public comment for the bill was mixed. Some expressed concerns about addiction and youth adoption, while others pointed to a need for medical cannabis and a potential lucrative revenue stream for Wyoming.
Stenquist said she is counting votes in the House and Senate to try to get the bill passed. If it doesn't, she warned that Wyoming could follow in the footsteps of the Utah.
"If this doesn’t pass, we have polled in Wyoming and they are polling at 85% support," she said of medical cannabis. "There is an appetite for a ballot initiative."