CHEYENNE – As more states opt for some form of marijuana legalization, Wyomingites continue to soften their views on use of the drug for both medical and recreational purposes.
But the likelihood that growing acceptance leads to any significant movement on the issue in next year’s legislative session remains unlikely.
A new report from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming shows nearly half of Wyoming residents – 49 percent – support legalization of marijuana for recreational use. That number is significantly higher when the question comes to medical marijuana, with 86 percent supporting legalization in that form. And 69 percent of residents think possession of a small amount of the drug shouldn’t lead to jail time.
Those numbers mark a growing trend over the past six years. WYSAC also conducted the survey in 2014 and 2016, and there has been a statistically significant increase in positive views on marijuana legalization.
But while the state’s population looks upon marijuana legalization more favorably, it’s unlikely the state Legislature will consider legalizing medical uses, let alone recreational, next session.
State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said while he suspected there might be a bill introduced in the next legislative session, he doubted it would be able to get any traction. The co-chairman of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee said there were enough issues in Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational use that should keep Wyoming from following down that road.
“I’m disappointed in the experiment Colorado conducted when they legalized it. I was hopeful that what they would do was find a way that you could have a legal product that wasn’t particularly harmful,” Scott said.
He added, “I think there’s enough difficulty with medical marijuana that you have to almost treat it as the same as recreational marijuana. I’ve been advised by other states that you get widespread abuse with medical marijuana.”
Candidates for governor this year have expressed some form of support for medical marijuana, yet they weren’t buying a move toward recreational sales. During an Oct. 6 debate among three of the four gubernatorial candidates, Republican Mark Gordon said he was opposed to recreational sales, but wasn’t completely against the idea of medical marijuana. Democrat Mary Throne said she didn’t think Wyoming should legalize recreational sales, but supported medical marijuana and the decriminalization of the drug. And Constitution Party candidate Rex Rammell was vehemently opposed to recreational sales, but said he was willing to study the issue of medical marijuana.
Currently, possession of 3 ounces or more of marijuana in plant form is considered a felony in Wyoming. And the Legislature has had a difficult time trying to come to a consensus on penalties for possession of marijuana edibles, a subject of failed bills in the past two sessions, despite mounting interest with the proliferation of the products in Colorado.
The results of the 2018 WYSAC survey showed support has continued to grow across the state.
In 2014, the survey found 37 percent of Wyoming residents supported legalization of recreational uses. That number rose to 41 percent in 2016, then 49 percent this year.
The same trend could be seen with medical legalization, with 74 percent supporting it in 2014, and 81 percent in 2016. That number has grown to 86 percent this year.
“I think it’s natural to see a trend and assume it will continue until something proves otherwise,” said Brian Harnisch, senior research scientist with WYSAC. “For example, for this issue, I assume support will plateau at some point. But when (that will be) is impossible to say.
“There are a lot of external factors that influence public opinion. New research and changing laws around the country, and in our neighboring countries, are observable changes that help the people in our state form and sometimes change their opinions about recreational and medicinal marijuana.”
The trends in Wyoming mirror what’s being seen across the country, both in opinions and action. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found 63 percent of the country is in favor of legalization. As of now, 30 states have legalized medical marijuana, and nine states, along with Canada, have completely legalized the drug for recreational use.
The growth in support, both nationally and in Wyoming, has mostly come from younger people. In Wyoming, the WYSAC study found a majority of people between the ages of 18 to 44, along with people between the ages of 55 and 64, supported recreational marijuana legalization. When it came to residents 45 to 54 years old and 65 and above, a large majority opposes the idea.
Given the support among younger Wyomingites, the state could continue to see the state’s stance on marijuana become more favorable as people age, Harnisch said.
“I think as attitudes evolve, in general, we will see these trends continue in the near future,” Harn-isch said. “In particular, younger Wyoming residents are more likely than older Wyoming residents to support marijuana legalization policies. Not only are these younger people going to get older and carry their beliefs along with them, but we see the opinions of Wyoming residents in the middle age groups changing slowly as well.”
The telephone survey was conducted by WYSAC over both landlines and cellphones, and 607 residents were interviewed. The results of the surveys were weighed based on age, gender and county population to bring demographic characterizations in line with Wyoming’s population.