Poll: Majority of Wyoming residents support cannabis legalization


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A newly published survey carried out by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WYSAC) has discovered that 54 percent of state residents support cannabis legalization. 

This finding marks the first occasion on which a polling group has expressed a greater level of support for cannabis reform in Wyoming than against. Back in 2014, the WYSAC recorded 37 percent support for cannabis legalization in Wyoming support inflated to 41 percent in 2016 and 49 percent in 2018.

In addition to the percentage of residents who support legal weed, another 75 percent said that possession should not put someone at risk of facing jail time more than the 66 percent in 2014 and 29 percent in 2018.

The subject of medical cannabis legalization was also discussed in the WYSAC poll, which showed that support sunk slightly to 85 percent this year from 86 percent in 2018. Currently, Wyoming is one of six U.S. states that has not implemented a medical cannabis program.

As laws regarding the legalization and decriminalization of [cannabis] change around the U.S., especially in nearby states, it’s not surprising to see attitudes in Wyoming change as well,” said WYSAC senior research scientist, Brian Harnisch, who noted that medical or recreational cannabis has been legalized in all but one (Idaho) of Wyoming’s border states.

While support is high for cannabis reform in Wyoming, it’s important to highlight the fact that people are more likely to disagree with legalization efforts “as age increases.” As much as 74 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds supported statewide legalization; 68 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds; 67 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds; 51 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds. 

The survey discovered that 45 percent of 45- to 55-year-olds supported cannabis reform efforts in Wyoming; 40 percent of individuals aged 65-74 and 30 percent of people in the 75+ group.

Efforts to legalize cannabis in Wyoming have continuously faltered 

Cannabis advocates in Wyoming have long been hoping that lawmakers in the state will follow in the footsteps of its southerly neighbor Colorado, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2012. In addition to Washington, Colorado became among the first U.S. states to pass such a law. Since this time, Colorado’s legal cannabis market has generated billions of dollars in revenue, suggesting that Wyoming could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

Unfortunately, lawmakers only went as far as to legalize CBD and hemp products last year. Why? Since these products are absent in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), they are more widely accepted than mind-altering cannabis preparations.

Despite the legalization of CBD and hemp products in Wyoming, the state still imposes some of the nation’s toughest penalties for cannabis possession. What’s more, even the most tolerable efforts to encourage cannabis reform have fallen flat. For example, a medical cannabis bill that was introduced in 2019 didn’t even manage to get a hearing on the Wyoming House of Representatives’ floor. 

Meanwhile, initiatives to relax criminal cannabis-related penalties have not experienced much headway; mainly due to opposition from Wyoming’s conservative lawmakers, many of whom believe that the natural substance is still a “gateway drug”.

“Currently, Wyoming statutes around cannabis are unrealistic,” said attorney and cannabis reform advocate Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie. “We’ve tried to address that in the Judiciary Committee. And we spent three years working on cannabis law reform and made no progress. I remember telling National Public Radio once that I have not spent this much time listening to people talk pointlessly about weed since I was in high school.”

2021 legislative session holds promise for legal cannabis in Wyoming

Although there has not been much progress in terms of cannabis legalization in Wyoming thus far, this is not to say that things couldn’t change in the near future. In addition to the high level of support for legal cannabis in Wyoming as demonstrated in the WYSAC poll the Legislature recently welcomed more than two dozen new members.

With more legislative members in the mix, there’s a good chance that the topic of cannabis reform in Wyoming will surface during the 2021 session. Plus, Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne is pushing things in the right direction. He has been hard at work drafting a medical cannabis bill and cannabis decriminalization bill that mimics Virginia’s. 

We just want to get the discussion going; I was looking at a map this morning of states who have voted to legalize it, and we are literally an island,” Olsen who is one of three Republicans to propose cannabis reform bills this winter recently told reporters.