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Answers to common questions about Wyoming drug laws.
Like a lot of folks, we were pleased to hear that the good people of Colorado recently passed Amendment 64, which legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older. Frankly, it’s about time.
Whatever you do, do NOT let Colorado’s casual attitude toward the so-called “recreational use” of marijuana leave you with the impression that the same is true north of that border.
The temptation may be there to drive south for an hour, make a purchase and then come home to Wyoming. Our first and most critical advice, if you are considering bringing home such a Colorado purchase, is quite simple: Don't do it!
Even in Colorado, the situation isn't completely clear. Marijuana remains illegal everywhere in the US under federal law, and the current lack of enforcement in Colorado could change at any minute.
In response to last fall’s decisions by Washington and Colorado voters to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, President Obama quipped that the Federal government has “more important issues” to deal with than to go after states in which voters approved the recreational use of marijuana. Doubtless, the President also realized that while he carried Colorado in the last election, that state’s marijuana initiative, Amendment 64, had a bigger margin of victory than he did.
The story is the same. You will not be welcomed with open arms (unless those arms are holding handcuffs) when you cross into Wyoming or other states without medical marijuana laws. In fact, Wyoming has gotten stricter in the past few years.
Back in the day, Wyoming Statute 35-7-1031 (c) was at least a little unclear as to how the state would handle prescribed marijuana:
It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by this act.
But to underscore Wyoming’s animosity towards its neighbor’s adoption of medical marijuana rules, the Wyoming State Legislature revised Wyoming Statute § 35-7-1031 (c) to include “no prescription or practitioner’s order for marihuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or synthetic equivalents of marihuana or tetrahydrocannabinol shall be valid,” closing what wasn't even a real loophole in the law ... but the Legislature really wanted to underscore the point.
The Wyoming Controlled Substances act, W.S. § 35–7–1001, et seq, criminalizes the possession of marijuana in any quantity. Often the ticket or citation will be written as "possession of a controlled substance (plant form)," and won't specify what plant you're accused of possessing.
W.S. § 35–7–1031(c)(i)(A) makes it a misdemeanor to possess any quantity up to three ounces, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. This is true even if all you have is a pipe with trace amounts. A third conviction over the course of your lifetime can be charged as a felony, and can land you in the state penitentiary for up to five years.
Possession of more than three ounces is a felony, punishable by up to five years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Keep in mind that if you were to bring, for example, brownies, to Wyoming the statute may cause you problems, because it notes that in determining weight, officials are to include “the weight of the controlled substance and the weight of any carrier element, cutting agent, diluting agent or any other substance excluding packaging material.”
Theoretically, a pound of brownies, even they include less than half-an-ounce of pot, could be classified as a felony, since flour, chocolate and sugar would fall into the category of “any carrier element, cutting agent, diluting agent or any other substance….”
There are Federal consequences, too. Even a simple misdemeanor drug conviction will result in your being barred from receiving Title IV financial aid for one year for a first offense and two years for a second.
For more information, please check out NORML's excellent and thorough guide to penalties for possession in Wyoming and nationwide: Wyoming Penalties.
If the police ask you for permission to “look around,” saying yes means that you have just voluntarily waived your Fourth Amendment rights. That applies to your car, your home or your dorm room. Do not consent.
Some officers my try to intimidate you or suggest that “things might go better” for you if you cooperate, but stick to your guns. Remember though, you can revoke consent if the police get too intrusive.
Our best advice is to remain calm and polite and simply state “I understand that you are doing your job, Officer, but I never consent to searches.”
If the officer begins to conduct a search without your permission, go ahead and voice your objection but do so politely and do not interfere. The Courts may find that the search has been conducted illegally and your attorney may succeed in having any evidence retrieved in such a search suppressed, meaning it cannot be introduced at trial.
Under federal law, your right to remain silent doesn't kick in until you are charged or arrested. However, under Wyoming law, your right to silence exists at all times and is self-executing. Tortolito v. State, 901 P.2d 387 (Wyo. 1995).
You’ve heard it on police shows for most – if not all – of your life: Anything you say to the police can and will be used against you. Don't give them a chance to put words in your mouth. Be respectful, identify yourself and show identification if you have it, but from there on, simply tell them that you would like to exercise your right to remain silent.
It should be obvious, but you cannot talk yourself out of trouble with the police and talking to them will only help put the noose around your neck.
Ordinarily, when the police want to search something, they need to get a warrant. However, this rule does not apply to vehicles in most circumstances. Under Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970), the police can search a car based only on probable cause.
The Wyoming Supreme Court has held that the odor of marijuana alone equals probable cause. McKenney v. State, 165 P.3d 96 (Wyo. 2007). So, it’s time for one more piece of really obvious advice: DO NOT allow your car, your airplane or your boat to smell like marijuana.
No, your car doesn’t have to smell like Cheech and Chong have been driving the thing for the past year. An officer can claim that he has probable cause based on even a “faint odor,” or what officers often describe as “the odor of raw marijuana.” And you would not believe how well Wyoming's peace officers can smell.
Do not try to argue with the officer. Take the ticket and be on your way. When you get home, call an attorney at your earliest convenience. Even a simple “ticket” carries with it the risk of jail time, fines and can hurt your chances of receiving financial aid. Don’t simply go to court and plead guilty.
Stay calm. Do not resist. Follow the officer’s orders. Do not try to discuss the arrest or the surrounding circumstances with the officer … or with anyone other than your attorney. Make it clear that you want your attorney present if you are questioned.
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