EVANSTON, Wyoming — After the Wyoming State Legislature declined to advance a bill to legalize medical cannabis this year, advocates are turning to voters with a pair of ballot initiatives for 2022.
"It deserved to be debated. And since they didn’t debate it? We’re going to let the people of Wyoming," said Madonna Long, who is signing on to sponsor the initiative.
Long, a Kemmerer resident who lobbied the legislature to pass a medical cannabis bill, said she believed a ballot initiative would pass in Wyoming, one of the few western states still without cannabis access.
"The patients — the people with chronic diseases, people with disabilities like me, those people that maybe suffer from MS, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, maybe cerebral palsy — all of these people benefit greatly from cannabis therapies," she said in an interview with FOX 13 on Thursday.
Long was injured in a bus crash where she had a spinal cord injury. She said she continues to suffer from spams and now uses a wheelchair.
"For people like me? People who suffer from chronic spasms? It would help them significantly," she said of using cannabis.
There will be two ballot initiative proposals submitted to Wyoming's Secretary of State on Friday in Cheyenne. One will create a medical cannabis program with dispensaries and the ability for people to grow their own limited quantity of plants. The other would decriminalize marijuana in Wyoming.
The Wyoming legislature considered a bill that legalized recreational marijuana, too. It passed a committee but was not even considered on the House floor.
One ballot initiative will be focused on medicinal access only, the other will be a marijuana decriminalization initiative.
"I am not going to leave anything to chance. I’m not going to leave it up to legislators like we did here in Utah. I’m going to move forward on a ballot initiative and give the patients what they deserve," said Christine Stenquist, the director of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), who was a sponsor of Utah's medical cannabis ballot initiative and is now working in Wyoming on cannabis issues.
Stenquist said she expects opposition to an initiative, but not quite to the scale of Utah's hard-fought Proposition 2.
"I don’t think we’ll see the same fight. We don’t have the same stakeholders in Wyoming that you do here," she told FOX 13 in a recent interview. "Specifically, the LDS Church is not the big opponent we’re worried about in Wyoming."
The Wyoming Medical Association opposed a 2016 attempt at a ballot initiative and is expected to object to this one. Wyoming law enforcement groups also opposed cannabis bills in the legislature.
But polling has shown increased support for medical marijuana in Wyoming — as much as 85%, according to one survey last year by the University of Wyoming. About 54% of those polled support recreational marijuana, and 75% supported marijuana decriminalization.
To get an initiative on the ballot in Wyoming, supporters must get 100 sponsor signatures. If those are validated, then they will have the next year to get nearly 31,000 signatures across the state. If those are verified, the issues will be placed on the 2022 ballot for voters.
Support is building already for a campaign. The national Libertarian Party is committing some resources, Stenquist said, as are other cannabis groups.
"The public is wanting this. They’ve been wanting this for a long time," she said.
Long said she planned to work on signature-gathering events in Evanston and surrounding areas once they can start. She wants to ensure patient stories are told, collecting stories on a website for the Wyoming Patients Coalition.
"It’s really all of these people’s stories together to be able to help our leaders and the people in our communities understand this will be good for Wyoming," Long said.