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Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Cheyenne, left, discusses a bill with Rep. Jim Blackburn, R-Cheyenne, during the 63rd Wyoming Legislature's budget session Tuesday afternoon at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne. Tuesday was the second day of the planned 20-day session. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A proposal for Wyoming to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana has gone up in smoke once again.

The Wyoming House of Representatives voted Tuesday to reject a bill that would have eased the state’s penalties for those caught with up to an ounce of the drug.

Instead of facing a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, those possessing up to an ounce would only have to pay a $50 to $100 civil fine under the proposal.

Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, was the sponsor of the legislation.

He said this punishment would be more fair considering that recreational marijuana is legal in other states, including Colorado. He said it also would take some of the pressure off the state’s judicial system.

“It would take a lot of things that we run through the court system and the very expensive proprietorial process and it would eliminate most of that,” he said. “And that would alleviate a lot of the financial burden that is on the system.”

Byrd acknowledged this is a controversial proposal. But he asked his fellow lawmakers to at least vote to introduce the bill and send it to a legislative committee so it could be debated further.

But the House instead rejected the bill on a 21-37 vote – far from the two-thirds majority vote needed for introduction. This was the third year in a row the House has defeated marijuana decriminalization proposals.

Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, a former Campbell County sheriff, said passing the bill would have sent “the wrong message” to the residents of the state.

“I have received numerous calls and emails from people wanting to vote against this,” he said. “This would create a lot of problems in the state.”

Minutes after rejecting the proposal, the House defeated another marijuana-related bill that Byrd was sponsoring.

House Bill 7 would have allowed out-of-state residents who have a medical marijuana card or prescription from their home state to legally carry the drug in Wyoming.

Byrd said the reciprocity agreement would be similar to how Wyoming honors concealed-carry firearm permits that were issued in another state.

“This bill in no way allows for the growing, dispensing or any method of acquiring medical marijuana in the state,” he said.

“All it is is a straight one-to-one reciprocity based on valid ID from that state and a valid marijuana card.”

Other notable House bills that were rejected Tuesday after failing to secure the two-thirds votes needed for introduction included:

  • House Bill 4: Would have increased Wyoming’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour.
  • House Bill 5: Would have created the so-called “ban the box” law, which prevents employers from asking potential hires about their criminal histories on job applications.
  • House Bill 25: Would have given counties the ability to regulate the feeding of wildlife.
  • House Bill 61: Would have provided up to $250,000 for technology-based startups in Wyoming. The funds would have been used for products and ideas that have the “possibility” of returning an economic benefit to Wyoming’s economy.
  • House Bill 72: Would have allowed parents to let their children opt out of mandatory statewide K-12 assessments.

The introduction votes will resume today and continue for most of the rest of the week.

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