A small group of people gathered at Dalbey Memorial Park Saturday evening in what may be the start of a more large-scale movement toward less restrictive marijuana laws throughout Wyoming.
This weekend, kick-off events were hosted in several cities throughout Wyoming, including the Dalbey Park gathering in Gillette, to promote petitions to put marijuana initiatives on the upcoming election ballots.
Earlier this summer, two ballot initiatives received the necessary 100 co-sponsors to become certified. Now they are beginning the signature-gathering phase. It means that petition papers for new marijuana legislation have begun circulating through Wyoming towns, in hopes of reaching the November 2022 or 2024 general election ballots.
One initiative calls for decriminalization of marijuana possession, use, cultivation and transfer. Its amendments to current drug legislation suggests reducing the fines and punishments for weed charges, while also upping the felony possession threshold from no more than 3 ounces to up to 4 ounces.
The other calls for legalization of medical marijuana. That initiative would allow voters to approve or shoot- down a plan to implement a regulated medical marijuana framework into Wyoming.
Each initiative needs to gather 41,776 petition signatures for ballot placement, which is 15% of the state’s registered voting population.
Frank Latta, former Gillette mayor and marijuana advocate, was at the kick-off event Saturday. He is optimistic this marijuana movement will fair better than past efforts.
Latta is one of the initial signers and has long been involved in pushing for reformed marijuana laws in Wyoming. For this current go-around, Wyoming NORML — a pro-pot organization — and the Wyoming Libertarian Party have joined together in support of the initiatives.
“All of us are just tired of the piddly stuff, the nonviolent stuff sending people to jail,” Latta said. “And we think it’s time to end that.”
Earlier this year, a bill outlining a path to legalize recreational and medical marijuana was introduced to the state Legislature. With 12 state representatives and two senators as co-sponsors, House Bill 209 was introduced to the state House of Representatives but did not make it to the committee of the whole for consideration.
That bill outlined a comprehensive approach to implementing both recreational and medicinal marijuana throughout Wyoming.
While sharing some broad similarities, the ballot initiatives being petitioned for now are not as expansive and inclusive as the marijuana bill shot down early in its run through the state Legislature.
“This is a watered down version of that. It’s something we’ve been trying to work on for a long time,” Latta said. “The Legislature just doesn’t have a lot of appetite for it at this time.”
Which is why pro-pot advocates are doing the legwork to bring the reformed marijuana laws to the voters directly.
In last year’s general election, voters in neighboring Montana and South Dakota both got cannabis-friendlier laws approved, with Montana adding recreational legalization plans while South Dakota approved both recreational and medical.
Since then, the legalization in South Dakota has been challenged and still remains in flux.
And of course, nearby Colorado has been a leader in legalizing marijuana.
While Wyoming didn’t have any new legislation make it through this year, there have been signs that public sentiment is shifting toward legalization.
A University of Wyoming poll conducted in 2020 found that 54% of Wyomingites support legalizing possession of marijuana and about 85% support its use for medical purposes.
To make sure the petition gets in front of those in favor of legalization, Latta said signature-gatherers have been hired and will begin going door to door throughout Wyoming to get folks to put pen to paper on the initiatives.
Some area businesses also have gotten on board to host petitions, he said.
Platte Hemp Co., which opened in Gillette this summer and offers legal hemp and CBD products, is one area business that is backing the petition efforts.
But beyond that, petitions and signature-gatherers may soon be seen at community events and Gillette Avenue to get a hold of foot traffic.
A long row to hoe
In the days to come, paper petitions and signature-gatherers may begin popping up on Gillette streets and local events, chipping away one-by-one at the mountain of signatures needed to get each initiative on the ballot.
One of those on-the-ground activists will be Richard McDaniels, a 41-year-old handyman and Gillette resident who is pushing for reformed laws surrounding the substance he said helped him beat drug addiction.
“I’ve been supportive of marijuana for a long time,” McDaniels said. “It’s been my exit drug or medicine.”
He said he used to be a heavy meth and alcohol user, but that about 10 years ago, marijuana helped him kick those addictions and improve his life.
“I used to be real bad as a meth user and real bad alcoholic, and if I just have a couple hits of that marijuana, then I’m good and don’t have any cravings of methamphetamine or alcohol,” he said.
Of course, pot is not legal in any form in Wyoming, so he said he takes occasional out-of-town trips to enjoy it where he legally can, and settles for expensive medications while in town, ones he said he would not need if he could regularly use marijuana.
“If it was legal here and able to use it as a proper medicine for me, my anti-depressant pills and anxiety would dissipate, completely,” McDaniels said. “Marijuana would be my only medicine.”
Clay Cundy, a co-founder of Visionary Broadband, has his own up-close experience with medical marijuana uses through his son who suffered a severe injury in Colorado several years back.
He shared his story with the Gillette City Council back in 2016, when the council was considering a resolution opposing legalization of marijuana.
And he still holds those views almost five years later.
At about 3 p.m. on a regular Sunday afternoon, he said his son was riding a borrowed scooter — because his son’s car had been caught in a flash flood at the time — when a drunken driver pulled out in front of him. The collision caused severe injuries to his son’s brain.
He was in a coma for a week, then had to relearn how to walk and slowly recover his motor functions. Of course, given the severity of his injuries, many medications were subscribed. One of them, Cundy was skeptical of his son taking: marijuana.
Through his doctor’s orders, it was used in a prescribed and managed way that Cundy said helped his son’s recovery. Although he said marijuana is not a harmless drug, and there is always the risk that it could be abused, it’s medicative properties are both existent and not fully understood.
“There are too many claims that it works for everything,” Cundy said. “If you want medical marijuana to be legal, then they have to find a way for it not to look like snake oil.”
There is still a lot of research to be done on the various short-term and long-term effects, benefits and deleterious effects of marijuana use. But Cundy said that is an argument for why it should be de-stigmatized and more widely accepted in order to advance that science.
“What I’m just tired of is, why are we so backwards from the way the rest of the country is working on this stuff?” Cundy asked. “We should at least be able to have medical marijuana.”
Then there is the economic potential to consider. Cundy said the stern social conservatism in Wyoming could be stunting its opportunities to bring in businesses and population, especially those who identify as fiscally conservative, but are socially more left-leaning.
“If you can diversify your economy with something like this, then why don’t you?” Cundy asked.
This time around, Latta said a wide swath of society has popped up and showed support for the proposed changes to marijuana law.
“We’re getting so many people who want to be involved in this, we’re having to hold back a little bit. ... There’s doctors who have got a hold of us, lawyers who have got a hold of us, it’s going far better than I ever thought it would,” Latta said.
With the amount of support from volunteers and organizational efforts so far, Latta hopes the necessary signatures will be inked, and that the initiatives will be appearing on an upcoming ballot.
“It’s time to change,” Latta said. “The times are changing and it’s time Wyoming catch up and be a part of that a little bit.”
It’s Homecoming Week at Campbell County High School. The Camels will face Cheyenne South in the game on Friday, but the festivities will last throughout the week.
Students will get a chance to celebrate the week with a variety of spirit days. They include a day for neon (Monday), a day to dress to impress (Tuesday), a day to celebrate the USA by wearing one’s most patriotic gear (Wednesday), a day for superheroes and villains (Thursday), and, of course, a day for purple and gold and Camel pride (Friday).
Wednesday will see the students getting hyped for Friday’s football game with a pep assembly that will begin at 2 p.m and is sure to include music from the CCHS band and routines from its cheerleaders.
There will also be a homecoming parade downtown along Gillette Avenue beginning at 4:30 p.m.
After the football game, the students will get to celebrate with a homecoming dance that will last until midnight. It’s been two years since CCHS has been able to have a homecoming dance. It was one of the events that COVID-19 made impossible last year.
The Camels will kick off against the Bison at 6 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday, the Camels volleyball team will celebrate its homecoming matches against Sheridan. There will be sophomore, junior varsity and varsity matches played in the CCHS gym beginning with the sophomore match at 10 a.m.
State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, announced Friday that he, along with co-sponsor and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, was introducing a bill to address Critical Race Theory in Wyoming’s K-12 classrooms.
The bill, entitled the Civics Transparency Act, is currently in draft form with the Legislative Services Office.
The Civics Transparency Act will require civics curriculum and materials to be published on school district websites so that parents and taxpayers can review them before the school year begins. It also would expand guidance on teachings about the United States and Wyoming constitutions and “the American ideal that discrimination against anyone for their immutable characteristics or religion is wrong,” according to a statement from the Wyoming Department of Education.
Driskill stressed in a phone call Monday morning that the bill was “truly a transparency bill.” He described it as a two-part bill.
“It requires that school districts post this year’s curriculum and post last year’s curriculum, along with what the materials are and résumés of who’s speaking,” Driskill said.
The bill is intended to provide parents with a meaningful opportunity to participate in their children’s education.
“Schools are a piece in making our children a productive part of society, but a huge part of it breaks back down to the parents,” Driskill said. “If parents don’t have access to find out what their kids are being taught and how, it’s very difficult for them to understand what’s happening with their own children.”
He said that he’s recently learned of an example of a school in Wyoming teaching critical race theory, “or at least a piece of it,” but he said he wouldn’t go into details because he was still learning more about it.
“The parents found out about it and dug into it,” he said. “They exposed it. It’s there. So the thought that it can’t occur in Wyoming is not true and that it’s not occurring in Wyoming probably isn’t true either.”
Driskill said the bill wasn’t drafted in response to that alleged case of critical race theory being taught. He said he learned of it after he’d already proposed the bill.
He offered another comparison for the rationale of the bill: how students are taught about natural resources, the climate and agricultural practices vital to Wyoming.
“It’s pretty important to me that a balanced approach be taken, how ranchers, farmers and ag are viewed by our students as far as whether we’re good for the environment or bad,” Driskill said. “We’ve got kids coming home telling me that beef is destroying the environment and bad for me, I’d probably like to be able to see that curriculum and be able to sit down with my local school board and say, ‘I don’t think this is a balanced curriculum.’”
The bill, Driskill conceded, will create noticeable changes for the school districts responsible for complying with it.
“Will this bill create more work for the people who develop curriculum and local school boards?” Driskill said. “Absolutely, there’s no doubt. As what’s being taught comes out, we all have some opinions.”
Highlighting Wyoming’s constitution
The second part of the bill, Driskill said, is to draw attention to elements of Wyoming’s constitution that he’s particularly proud of.
“Our constitution enshrined for the first time in U.S. history the ability of women to be able to hold public office and vote, to sit on juries,” Driskill said.
We also have a section of our constitution that talks specifically about racism and the problems of it,” Driskill said. “I’m asking those to be highlighted. It’s not saying you can’t teach other things, you can’t teach with it, but I want to make sure our kids read it and understand it.”
Driskill said the point of the bill was to allow parents to ensure that a balanced curriculum is being taught to their students.
Jillian Balow, the state superintendent of public instruction, supports the bill.
“K-12 classrooms are not an appropriate forum for radical political theory such as CRT,” she said in the WDE statement. “But it is not enough as state leaders to say what shouldn’t be taught, we also need to help school districts with what should be taught. That is why this bill is so critical. This bill empowers parents with the tools they need to oversee what is being taught in their district and provides guidance to districts on comprehensive U.S. history and civics instruction.”
Despite the superintendent’s support, Driskill said the bill has garnered some pushback from those in the education community across the state. He said that the Wyoming Education Association sent an email to members of the Legislature last week in which it was critical of the bill. The WEA was not able to provide comment by press time.
“I’m frustrated how rigid the education world is,” Driskill said. “And I’m not anti-education, but I’m really big on really looking at new avenues and new ways to do things. I find them really closed in a lot of ways. If they developed it internally, they think it’s better than sliced bread. But any idea that comes from the outside is treated as an attack on education.”
He pointed specifically to the ongoing education funding debate.
“You say, ‘Well, can we consider doing this more with less,’” Driskill said. “And their answer is always, ‘No, we can’t sustain any cuts to our funding.’ I will continue to challenge the system until they come to the table and say, ‘Let’s work as a team.’”
He said he expects another transparency bill focused on education to come in the future, though it might not be this year. The Civics Transparency Act is just one aspect of transparency needed in education.
“It gives parents that don’t have time to come in and do public records request and dig, it allows them to get online on their computer, and instead of playing a game of solitaire, they can actually pull up the curriculum and see what their kids are learning in the classroom.
“Will it be widely used? My guess is no. Will it be used? The answer is unequivocally yes. There are parents out there that are going to go line by line through that curriculum and see if it’s something that is the way it ought to be. And ultimately, they’re the ones that ought to be deciding what their kids are taught, not our school system,” Driskill said.