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Of Marijuana, Whining and the Failure to Launch: A Lesson in Wyoming Lobbying

In the Fall of 2013, I attended a presentation from the Cheyenne Police Department on marijuana enforcement in the city after Colorado’s enactment of its recreational marijuana law the previous year. Chief Brian Kozak was matter-of-fact, and was not there to advocate but to simply update the audience. This was not, however, the posture of various attendees, and Kozak fielded numerous questions from marijuana advocates that were little more than self-righteous critiques of state laws the chief of police has no authority to change.

I would like to say that since then Wyoming’s marijuana lobby has grown up, but it remains mired in platitudes, amateur tactics and, most unfortunately, a sense of victimhood that keeps its cause parked on the launch pad.

Laura Hancock’s recent article in the Casper Star Tribune illustrates but the latest hiccup. At the first meeting of the Joint Judiciary Committee, Wyoming’s chapter of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was initially listed to present. Senator Leland Christensen, co-chair of the committee, then removed their listing.

Sen. Christensen’s reasoning, as quoted in the article, is half legitimate and half dubious. Once again, marijuana advocates are barking up the wrong tree, because the Joint Judiciary Committee is not the place to present information about a ballot initiative. Such direct democracy is brought by the people and voted on during an election—that is, a ballot initiative bypasses the legislature entirely. Given the results of NORML’s last attempt to get a proposed law onto the ballot, they would make much better use of their time lobbying the people and collecting signatures. (How the topic ended up on the committee schedule in the first place is another mystery, Christensen says, and believe it or not such mysteries do happen.)

That said, Christensen is wrong to distinguish NORML as an “interest group” different from police organizations such as the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. WASCOP is an interest group like any other—one that, I should add, does not have the finest track record when it comes to presenting information to legislators.

Nevertheless, having one’s name absent from a committee schedule does not affect the ability to testify about an issue before a committee. If NORML has thoughts on topics for proposed bills for the 2017 Legislative Session, they could testify immediately following the people listed on the schedule. If NORML really wants to inform the committee about a ballot initiative the committee members will not be voting on as legislators, NORML could also present during general public comment at the end of the meeting. Even when interim committee meetings run off schedule (and they certainly do), I have never seen public comment denied.

But, argues Kerry Drake in his recent column at WyoFile, “[g]roups specifically invited to testify do so with a recognition of their authority and knowledge of the subject[,]” and thus have an advantage. This is simply not true. Some groups and lobbyists have more clout than others, but this advantage is hardly insurmountable and neither bolstered nor diminished by one’s listing on a schedule. (Drake also neglects to distinguish the two types of public comment I discuss above, and claims NORML would have to wait until the very end of the meeting to testify – this is also incorrect.)

The remainder of Drake’s column argues in favor of marijuana deregulation, and I agree with many of his points. Translating this into actual law is a tough climb in Wyoming. But it is certainly not impossible. It was only last year that that the Legislature passed a bill allowing medical use of hemp extract, with sponsorship of a respected conservative and co-sponsorship from none other than Sen. Christensen. Wyoming may not be ready to parallel Colorado’s marijuana policy, but it’s silly to pretend Wyoming suffers from reefer madness and that there are no openings for reform.

NORML and the marijuana lobby’s success will take careful, sustained engagement that leaves behind silly rallies and forgoes whining to reporters about minor slights like getting removed from an irrelevant schedule. Drake does the cause no favors by claiming Sen. Christensen left NORML without a “seat at the table.” To be sure, no matter your affiliation or cause, some legislators will like you no matter what, and some will dislike you no matter what. The vast majority will return dignity for dignity and give advocates of all stripes a fair shake. Even then, success is far from guaranteed. But it’s far more likely to win than whining.

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Comments 1

Guest - Al Anderson on Monday, 02 May 2016 09:56

Freedoms aside - I advocate caution here. Until the Federal Government decriminalizes, states that do risk loss of the coveted financial gains. The Federal Government, currently, has the laws in place to confiscate most if not all of the revenue from these sales. Let’s be honest, states are interested in decriminalization because of the money. WY should only proceed if the money stays here.

Freedoms aside - I advocate caution here. Until the Federal Government decriminalizes, states that do risk loss of the coveted financial gains. The Federal Government, currently, has the laws in place to confiscate most if not all of the revenue from these sales. Let’s be honest, states are interested in decriminalization because of the money. WY should only proceed if the money stays here.
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Monday, 20 November 2017

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