Kate Douglas packages up marijuana-infused sour gummies at Wana Brands on Oct. 6, 2015, in Boulder. (Paul Aiken, Daily Camera)

Wyoming lawmakers fail to finalize penalties for pot edibles

CHEYENNE — A bill seeking to clarify Wyoming penalties for possession of marijuana brownies and other foods and beverages containing the drug failed Monday when it missed a legislative action deadline.

The Wyoming Senate last week passed a bill that called for making it a felony to possess more than three ounces of food or drink containing marijuana or THC, its active ingredient. But the House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony language after hearing testimony that it’s difficult to gauge how much THC is present.

Wyoming has seen a spike in possession of marijuana edibles and beverages since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014. Neighboring Montana allows medical use of marijuana.

State District Judge Steven Sharpe of Cheyenne last year dismissed charges against a man who had 2 pounds of marijuana cookies, candies, bread and chocolate bars. The judge ruled existing state law outlaws possession of marijuana in its plant form.

The Wyoming Supreme Court hasn’t yet ruled on the issue, which could leave district judges in other parts of Wyoming to come up with differing interpretations of the law. Sharpe declined comment Monday on the status of the law following the death of the bill.

Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, voted at last week’s House Judiciary Committee to strip out language specifying possession of marijuana edibles as a felony. He said the debate over the details of how to test THC underscored “the futility of the state trying to regulate what is essentially a plant.”

Pelkey, a lawyer, said Monday said he expects the Legislature will address regulation of marijuana edibles as an interim topic before next year’s general legislative session.

Existing state statute could still allow felony prosecution for possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana edibles regardless how much of the actual drug is present if judges in other districts disagree with Sharpe’s reading of the law, Pelkey said. “It’s not settled law at this point,” he said.

Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said Wyoming judges have said they need to resolve confusion over the existing statute. He said he expects the Joint Judiciary Committee will address it in the interim.

“The problem is not whether or not there’s a misdemeanor, but whether or not you can charge a felony,” said Nicholas, who’s also a lawyer. “My impression is that people who want to make it a felony are trying to carve off too much.”

Nicholas said lawmakers should consider what constitutes a felony. “There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity,” he said.