Feds Planning To Declassify Marijuana But Wyoming Penalties Will Stay Same

The federal government’s reclassification of marijuana will be a significant change if it goes through, but it won’t change any of the penalties associated with possessing pot in Wyoming.

Leo Wolfson

May 03, 20246 min read

Congress giant marajuana pot joint 5 2 24
(Getty Images)

Marijuana may be moving from Schedule I to Schedule III drug status under federal law in the near future, but a Wyoming attorney said that a federal relaxation on pot won’t do anything to change the way the drug is penalized in Wyoming.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday agreed to reclassify marijuana under federal law.

Barry Crago, a state representative and civil attorney for the Johnson County Attorney’s office, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the federal move will do nothing to change the associated penalties and charges that come with possessing marijuana in Wyoming.

“It’s really not going to have that big of an effect under Wyoming law,” Crago said.

Any person found guilty of possessing 3 ounces or less of marijuana in Wyoming can be charged with a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Those found guilty of possessing more than 3 ounces will be charged with a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Those in possession of marijuana three or more times in Wyoming can also receive up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000.

All About Status

Cannabis is now a Schedule I controlled substance, a designation reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

The DEA’s recommendation would lower pot to Schedule III and into the realm of medical acceptance. Some examples of Schedule III drugs include Tylenol, codeine, anabolic steroids, testosterone and ketamine.

Cody resident Richard Jones is one of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana in Wyoming and one of the leaders of Wyoming Citizens Against Normalization. Jones said the change moves marijuana from a classification where it is fully illegal federally to a classification with substances that have some medical value.

“It’s the dream of the marijuana industry and has been for years,” he said. “It’s been one of their big dreams to get off Schedule I.”

With the federal change, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said there could be potentially greater access to marijuana, which could lead to more people getting ticketed and arrested in Wyoming.

“Wyoming’s backwards approach to individual freedom and liberty on this issue of criminalization and incarceration will cost this state more money and put more hard-working Wyomingites in jail who don’t really belong there,” she said.

Crago said the biggest immediate impact of the DEA change, if finalized, would be on marijuana industry companies and the way they are taxed federally, allowing them to receive more tax exemptions.

“It would allow them to acquire more favorable treatment,” he said.

Wyoming has few companies based in the marijuana industry as the substance is fully illegal here.

Tuesday’s change marks a capstone to President Joe Biden’s efforts to reform the nation’s cannabis regulatory policy.

Max Esdale, director of Wyoming marijuana advocacy group Wyoming NORML, said the change is being offered as a carrot from the administration to younger voters with the 2024 election coming up.

“They want it for November,” he said.

The decision of whether to officially adopt the DEA guidance is subject to approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget and could still be challenged in court. Its actual implementation, if approved, could still be as much as a few years out.

“It could take a very long time,” Esdale said.

White Collar Weed

Esdale agrees that the reclassification won’t change any laws in Wyoming, but said it will spur investment in marijuana companies and make it easier for them to get certain bank approvals.

“It says, ‘Hey, the government is finally making moves in a positive direction,’” he said. “It has a very large symbolic value of a sea change. The tide is changing.”

Even though he doesn’t like it, Jones agrees that it’s a landmark moment for the marijuana industry.

“That’s what’s been keeping the marijuana business down,” he said. “The industry as a whole loves it because it gives them more access to the banking system.”

Esdale said the change could also lead to the potential of medical marijuana being covered by health insurance in the future for certain diseases.

Jones is not convinced marijuana has any redeemable medical value, mentioning how the Federal Drug Administration has never approved a single marijuana product despite thousands of case studies already performed on it. It has, however, approved one cannabis-derived product and three synthetic cannabis products.

Jones believes the approval of the general public or a state legislature is not equitable to a medical study.

“The lie is that the states that have approved it for medical use, so it’s been medically approved,” Jones said. “It was passed in a public referendum, not scientific value.”

Wyoming’s Marijuana Laws

Marijuana is legal in some form in 38 states, and allowed for recreational use in 24, including Wyoming’s neighbors Montana and Colorado. Wyoming is one of 12 states where it’s not legal in any form.

Various bills have been proposed in the Wyoming Legislature aiming to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, none of which have had significant traction. The most recent attempt, sponsored by Provenza in the 2024 session, would have decriminalized marijuana in Wyoming. This bill failed to be considered for introduction.

Provenza said she brought her bill in anticipation of the federal government’s declassification.

“The Legislature can either do the hard work necessary to move in a different direction, or we can continue to ignore the reality of the world and the will of our constituents who want to see their right to make these decisions for themselves,” she said.

She believes Wyoming still has an opportunity to get ahead of the federal government on this issue.

“Rather than standing around and letting the feds decide how marijuana would impact our state, it would benefit Wyoming if we got in front of it and did the honest work of determining how we are going to regulate it so the people of our state benefit,” she said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter