SHERIDAN — During the Wyoming gubernatorial debate June 26 at Sheridan College, audience members chuckled as Democratic candidate Rex Wilde repeatedly returned to the idea of legalizing marijuana. With marijuana legalization spreading throughout the nation in different forms, the question lingers within communities — how does marijuana legalization truly affect local economies?
Sheridan saw petitions attempting to legalize medical marijuana fly through the state in 2016 with hopes of placing the issue on the 2018 ballot. The Sheridan Press reported in 2016 that advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana said it will give people suffering or recovering from injuries a safer, healthier alternative to taking painkillers.
However, local law enforcement opinions differ on marijuana, as agencies and court systems are riddled with misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
A March 13, 2018, Forbes article said legal marijuana is a boon to the economy. The article, written by Mona Zhang, said a report from the Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research said researchers found that a taxed and regulated cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy. Zhang’s article also reported $23 million in added costs to legalization for law enforcement and social services. With a net impact of more than $35 million, though, Pueblo County, Colorado, still ended up positive. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, an advocate for marijuana legalization in Colorado, said the legalization helps three elements: social justice, economy and safer substances.
“I don’t think we should be incarcerating 600,000 people per year for marijuana possession,” Pace said in an interview with local Pueblo radio station Rev89. “I see a huge opportunity for Pueblo to grow its economy and we’ve seen that growth through the legalization of cannabis and I think it’s through cultivation or extraction through CSU-Pueblo for research.”
Pace also cited “objective data” that cannabis is safer than alcohol and “certainly a heck of a lot safer than opiates.”
Sheridan Police Department Lt. Tom Ringley formerly told The Sheridan Press both SPD and the Department of Family Services see impacts in adolescents’ home life when family members choose to use marijuana recreationally. In 2016, marijuana was involved in 12.22 percent of all custodial arrests in Wyoming, increasing from 7.6 percent in 10 months in 2014 and 9.5 percent in 2015.
Wyoming Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Dahlin also included hemp, a byproduct of the cannabis plant, as a potential economy booster. Legislation from 2015 allowed the issuance of hemp extract registration cards, but local entities have discovered issues with regulating the tetrahydrocannabinol chemical in hemp oils. DCI discovered discrepancies when testing hemp oils distributed within the state.
Entities in Colorado and Wyoming continue to disagree on whether marijuana legalization positively impacts the economy. While legalized marijuana may boost new businesses and increase tax revenues, it also continues to worry law enforcement agencies on potential impacts in their line of work.