An anti-marijuana group based in northwest Wyoming is concerned about how the use of marijuana is becoming normalized in society, particularly in the wake of a weekend decision by the National Basketball Association to allow players to use cannabis.
The NBA became the first major sports league in the United States to fully allow its players to use marijuana in a Saturday announcement, which has drawn a quick response from Wyoming.
"Professional sports (figures) have always been looked at as role models of behavior and health, especially for kids. What message does this send?" says Wyoming Citizens Against Normalization (WYCAN) in a Monday morning statement reacting to the NBA.
Members of the group include state Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Wyoming Republican Party National Committeewoman Nina Webber.
The NBA will no longer test for marijuana, according to a tentative collective bargaining agreement brokered between the league and the National Basketball Players Association over the weekend.
That means there will be no framework in place for penalizing players who use the substance in cities and states where its legal, including Denver.
High On Hoops
Bennett Sondeno, director of Wyoming NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, said he supports the move and expected it to happen sooner.
"It's about time," he said. "There are so many jurisdictions where it's legal to carry or ingest marijuana."
Of the 30 NBA teams, 15 are based in cities where cannabis is legal for adult recreational use, including the Canadian-based Toronto Raptors and the Washington, D.C-based Wizards.
The remaining teams are based in states that have legalized cannabis for medical use.
The NBA teams closest to Wyoming are the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz. Marijuana is fully legal in Colorado, while in Utah it is legal for medical use.
Progress Or Insidious?
The NBA has been trending toward this decision for some time.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA announced in late 2021 it would no longer randomly test players for marijuana use after suspending testing in March 2020. At the time of the 2021 decision, the NBA said it would focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse.
"That doesn't fly with many in Wyoming," said Richard Jones, a WYCAN member and Wapiti resident.
"There's a constant attempt to change the language, verbiage for decriminalization in the name of social justice," Jones said. "For health and safety, I think its important for people know whats going on here. Theres an insidiousness thats not being taken seriously."
Jones, a former competitive fencer, said the NBA players who use marijuana will suffer a lack of focus, poor short-term memory, slowed motor skills, poor impulse control and slow speed of processing for days after ingesting the substance.
You cannot perform at your best when you are impaired, he said.
Pro Athletes Say Decision A Win
But a few former NBA stars and other professional athletes have been open about their cannabis use.
"All of my best games, I was medicated," said Matt Barnes in a 2018 Bleacher Report story. Barnes has won an NBA championship and spent 14 seasons in the league. "It wasn't every single game but, in 15 years, it was a lot."
Major League Baseball has a similar policy to the NBA, except it forbids players from showing up to team events while under the influence. The National Hockey League does not allow players to test positive for cannabis but has no penalty in place if they do.
Jones said he used to be a big NBA fan but stopped following the sport about two years ago when the league started various social justice campaigns.
Still No For NFL
Sondeno, who admits to not being a sports fan, said he would next like to see Americas favorite sport lift restrictions on marijuana use the National Football League.
"NFP players typically sustain the most serious injuries of any professional sports league," he said.
"If you're a hurting human, its (marijuana) probably going to help," he said.
The NFL still has the most stringent policies of all professional sports leagues when it comes to cannabis use, penalizing players who test positive and doling out long-term suspensions for repeat offenders.
Ryan Mader, athletic director for Buffalo High School and president of the Wyoming Coaches Association, said he worries the NBA decision will send a poor message to young athletes in Wyoming.
"These things tend to trickle down from the pros to college, and then to high school," he said. "It's always a concern and those things do have an effect."
Mader said he has not seen an increase in marijuana use among Wyoming athletes over the last decade or recent years.
Jones believes marijuana is becoming normalized around Wyoming, but still doesn't believe the state as a whole supports its use.
During an initiative last year to get two questions legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana before Cowboy State voters on the 2023 ballot, Wyoming NORML said it came particularly close to succeeding with this effort to gather about 45,000 petition signatures statewide.
"What we're seeing now is people are waking up to this," Sondeno said. "Why in the world are we ruining peoples lives over this?"
Jones said the fact Wyoming NORML still couldn't meet the threshold of 15% of registered voters in 16 of Wyoming's 23 counties over a span of 18 months shows that its not supported by a majority of the public.
"It's a lie when it comes to the popularity concept," he said. "The concept is that everybody's doing it, theres widespread support. It doesn't pan out. Its pure propaganda."
Jones drew a parallel between cigarette smoking and todays youth, mentioning how there is a negative social perception for tobacco products because of certain marketing.
He said an opposite effect has happened with marijuana in recent years.
West Park Hospital in Cody recently announced it would no longer drug test its vital employees for cannabis, citing an inability to recruit and retain staff.
Although Jones did not agree with the hospitals previous policy of automatic termination for those who test positive for pot, he said employees should not be allowed to ingest marijuana at will.
"Those are real life and death situations," Jones said.
The Cheyenne City Council recently became the first Wyoming municipality to consider a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, but soundly rejected the idea in two separate votes.
Sondeno said his group will reengage the ballot effort this year with for the purpose of getting questions before voters on the 2024 ballot.
He said his group will hire professional petitioners to get the job done and feels confident about its chances, especially since there will be lower signature thresholds than last year.