A marijuana legalization supporter at rally outside the Wyoming Capitol in January 2021. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — With the Wyoming Legislature convening its 2023 General Session on Tuesday, the Casper City Council spent some time during its work session talking about what priorities it is monitoring.

During the City Council’s discussion, Councilor Kyle Gamroth said he thinks the City of Casper should advocate that decriminalization of cannabis become an interim topic for the legislature to consider after the General Session concludes. While Gamroth is supportive of immediate decriminalization, he noted that he has seen no evidence that the legislature will address the topic during the General Session and therefore is calling for the topic to be added for a legislative committee to explore during the interim.

“Cannabis criminalization was never based on any scientific reasoning or rationale,” Gamroth said in explaining his position. “It seems to have coincided with a rise of racist sentiment against Mexican immigrants in the ’20s and ’30s.

“If you don’t believe ‘Reefer Madness’ and all the other propaganda used at the time to justify its criminalization … what reasons are there to keep it illegal now?”

Gamroth noted that the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, of which the City of Casper is a member, has a set of priorities it is lobbying the legislature to support this session and a number of those deal with expanding more opportunities for alcohol sales in the state. While he said he supports those proposals regarding alcohol, he added that he thinks the data indicates alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis.

“There’s not a single metric I can think of in which alcohol would score as less dangerous than cannabis,” Garmoth said before citing some statistics he obtained from Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police reports. “In Natrona County, alcohol is involved in 80% of traffic crashes, 25% of domestic violence incidents and 38.5% of all overall crime.”

Gamroth said he thinks it would be hypocritical if WAM or the City of Casper were to advocate for expansion to the alcohol market while ignoring some of the economic benefits that decriminalization of cannabis could provide. He said his position is to decriminalize personal possession of not only cannabis but all illicit substances and spend money that would otherwise be spent on things like incarceration costs or treatment programs.

Gamroth noted that the new Cheyenne City Council chair is also advocating that cannabis decriminalization be made a priority and said he thinks there is an opportunity for Casper to lend its weight to the issue to try and push the Wyoming Legislature to enact reform.

Mayor Bruce Knell asked for a straw poll to see how many on the Casper City Council support cannabis decriminalization. Councilors Amber Pollock, Lisa Engebretsen and Michael Bond all showed a thumbs up while Councilor Steve Cathey gave a thumbs down. Other members of the City Council didn’t show a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Knell said he has historically opposed decriminalization but noted that he changed his mind on the need for anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and that his mind might be changed if someone were to show him compelling evidence.

City Manager Carter Napier noted that with the legislative session just getting underway, it may be too early to start advocating for interim topics. However, he said the City Council will be given an opportunity to discuss this again.

During the work session, Assistant to the City Manager Jolene Martinez highlighted some of the legislation the City of Casper is tracking during the General Session. The work session can be streamed via the City of Casper’s YouTube channel:

YouTube video