The Wyoming capital of Cheyenne could soon be the first city in the state to decriminalize marijuana possession, with municipal officials expressing openness to the policy change.
The Cheyenne City Council is slated to consider a draft ordinance that would reduce the penalty for being in possession of up to three ounces of marijuana from a criminal charge to a civil infraction, punishable by no more than a $100 fine or up to 10 hours of community service.
The ordinance, which will be discussed in a future meeting, is part of an effort to address racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. In 2019, Cheyenne police arrested or issued citations for marijuana possession to African Americans at a rate that was more than four times higher than the rate for whites.
“We have to look at this through the lens of racial equity,” Councilman Richard Johnson said. “We’re trying to recognize that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted people of color and that we have to find ways to be more equitable.”
The proposed ordinance, which has been in the works since early 2020, would replace criminal charges with a civil citation process, in which individuals would be cited by an officer and given the option to pay the fine or complete community service.
“This is a way to keep people out of the criminal justice system, while still holding them accountable,” Johnson said. “This is a way to reduce the burden on the system, keep people out of jail, and give them the opportunity to move on with their lives.”
The ordinance is modeled after similar policies in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado. If approved, it would be the first of its kind in Wyoming.
The Cheyenne City Council is scheduled to consider the draft ordinance at a future meeting. If approved, it could become the first policy of its kind in the state, providing a potential model for other cities in the region.