Aug 5, 2013 - The Associated PressThe activists are aiming to get the initiative on the 2016 statewide general election ballot.
CHEYENNE -- Members of the newly formed Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are launching a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state through a ballot initiative.
The group is aiming to get the initiative on the 2016 statewide ballot, according to Christine Christian, its executive director.
Christian, of Jackson, said getting a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Wyoming will be difficult, but she said public opinion toward marijuana has shifted rapidly in the past several years.
She added the many Wyomingites have strong libertarian attitudes that could look favorably on their cause.
"We don't like being told what to do by the federal government," she said.
"And Wyoming doesn't like regulations and having our money go somewhere else."
Christian said marijuana restrictions cost the state millions each year and make criminals out of thousands of residents.
"There are way too many people in jail over possessing minor amounts of marijuana," she said. "All we are doing is sending them to jail and making them better criminals."
Possession of up to three ounces of marijuana in Wyoming is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Possession of more than 3 ounces is a felony, punishable by up to five years and a $10,000 fine.
Additionally, using or being under the influence of marijuana is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $100.
Sale or delivery of marijuana is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently reported that 2,254 people were arrested on marijuana charges in 2010 in Wyoming.
Of those arrests, 93 percent were only for possession and not for the manufacture or sale.
The report goes on to say that Wyoming spends more than $9 million a year enforcing its marijuana laws.
Linda Burt, executive director of the ACLU of Wyoming, agrees the state should legalize marijuana, saying it is a privacy issue.
But many lawmakers and Gov. Matt Mead oppose legalization.
During a recent news conference, Mead said there would be societal consequences if marijuana is legalized.
"One of the arguments, of course, you hear with regard to marijuana is that it's no worse than alcohol," said Mead, who served as federal prosecutor in Wyoming before winning his current office.
"I don't necessarily agree with that. But even if that was the case, I am not interested in adding another substance that we have to fight with from everything to driving impaired to the other social costs that go with it."
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