ROCK SPRINGS — The Rock Springs City Council met for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting last night, and one of the first discussions for the evening focused on the potential decriminalization of marijuana. The discussion came about after the City of Cheyenne considered taking a stance on the idea which led to the Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM) potentially taking up the discussion during the next legislative session.
Mayor Mickelson prefaced the discussion by saying, “The City of Rock Springs, for various reasons is the only municipality in the state that does not belong to WAM. So the only way for the City of Rock Springs’ voice to be heard is to discuss it, and then at a subsequent meeting take action on what our position is so that our legislators are aware of how we feel about it as a city.”
Police Chief Bill Erspamer was asked for his opinion on the subject by Councilmen Tim Robinson. Erspamer responded, “On the surface, I think it’s natural for law enforcement to be hesitant on any sort of decriminalization or legalization conversations, but I don’t know where this conversation is headed. So I don’t know if we’re talking medical use, or just completely decriminalizing. I think for me to take a hard stance that I’m against it would be the wrong approach. I talked to the Wyoming Chiefs and Sheriffs association about their stance on this, and what they recommend and I agree with that Law enforcement wants to take an educational stance so you can make an informed decision, but I think for me to take a hard stance against it would probably be the wrong approach – it’s an expected response I’m sure for everyone in law enforcement.”
Ward 4 Councilman Brent Bettolo made the suggestion that they look into some statistics and any information the police department can provide so that they have the most well rounded knowledge of the issue. Erspamer offered to bring information that had been made available to him and the police station to the council.
Mayor Mickelson asked Chief Erspamer to include materials and information on the organic effects of THC – saying “…frequently people that have an underlying condition will be users and then develop schizophrenia or clinical depression or suicidal ideation and we’re already heavily under served as a community for mental health, so I’d be curious to see what the numbers are on how many people experience that.”
Councilman Tim Robinson of Ward 1 wanted to make sure the public realized that the City was not discussion legalization of marijuana, only the decriminalization of it. Robinson explained, “I think we need to focus on the difference between legalization and decriminalization. One is taking felony charges out of the equation, jail time, fines. When we’ve got businesses in our community essentially selling marijuana over the counter, and it can be accessed by anyone legally because its called hemp… It’s essentially being sold, and there’s no enforcement of that. That’s not a jab at the police department because their hands are tied as far as what the state has done on the state level on hemp.”
Switching gears Robinson put forth some of his feelings on the matter.
“I am leaning towards decriminalization, many people who ended up getting a misdemeanor marijuana charge – that’s on their record forever. Now they’re limited in possible job prospects down the road, if they get cited a third time it’s now a felony, which affects voting rights and hunting rights. I think that the criminal penalties for marijuana are maybe outweighed by the benefit of people not having these charges on their record down the road.”
Mayor Mickelson wanted the council to bear in mind that all they would be doing is sending a letter to their legislators saying “…we are in favor or against decriminalizing; we don’t actually have the authority to decriminalize or criminalize anything.”
Jeannie Demas of Ward 1 said that she was in favor of medical marijuana, explaining, “I think it would help people with cancer and stuff like that.”
Ward 4 representative Randy Hanson gave his thoughts saying that, “If we do proceed with this discussion, I do think we have to proceed with caution because there are so many doors, so many questions, so many different perceptions that we’re looking at.”
The council concluded the discussion by planning to hold more meetings so they can take in the requested information from Chief Erspamer, and to also give the public a chance to comment on the issue.
Tim Robinson said that, “It’s crazy that we had more people here for chickens, than we have for a discussion like this — so we may have to have maybe another date where we can get a few more people in here, the more information we have — the better informed we can be when making that call.”