Legalization groups usually welcome endorsements from high-profile advocacy groups. But that isn't the case in one region of the American West, where the Wyoming Cannabis Activists (WCA) campaign to legalize medicinal marijuana may implode under the strain of infighting with Wyoming NORML and other groups. And much of the controversy centers around the public image of cannabis consumers.
When NORML began agitating for reform in Wyoming in 2014, they originally wanted to legalize both recreational and medicinal cannabis use with one measure.
But when the University of Wyoming released a poll showing that residents favored medicinal over recreational cannabis legalization, NORML decided to drop their pitch for full legalization and endorse the WCA's initiative. Chris Christian, who was then the executive director of Wyoming NORML, told the Casper Star Tribune the goal was to pass medical first and then focus on recreational in 2018.
Infighting divides activists in the Equality State
The infighting revolves around a variety of issues. Some activists insist on a motion that includes recreational use. Others disagree with the way in which the current initiative would regulate the market.
But the most surprising development is that the public image of cannabis and its consumers is dividing supporters.
State Representative Jim Byrd (D), who supports legalization but isn't a member of NORML, drew the ire of activists by criticizing their professionalism. He urged them to rebrand the campaign so that it doesn't "look like a bunch of potheads" are running things.
"And they chose not to follow my advice," he told The Billings Gazette. "I told them when they go out circulating the petitions, they need to ditch the NORML T-shirts. They need to dress like normal people in Wyoming. I made the joke, why don't you dress like the LDS kids [Mormons] on the mission — black pants, white shirts? No tie dye, none of that other crap. You're trying to come up with an image of an organization run like adults."
As a point of reference, here's an image used on the WCA's website:
In the eyes of people like Byrd, the groups certainly could look a little more corporate.
The infighting has already claimed one casualty. On Nov. 29, Christian stepped down as the head of NORML and claimed that the ballot initiative is a loss. "Taking this on was like herding jackrabbits uphill in a snowstorm," she told The Billings Gazette.
Byrd hopes that new leadership will revive the movement and help the campaign appeal to a broader range of Wyoming residents. But it's too soon to tell if Christian's departure will be enough to let out the bad blood.
Meanwhile, the electorate is favorable toward the cause, so reforms are certainly possible if activists could only overcome their differences. According to the University of Wyoming poll, 72 percent of residents would support legalizing medicinal cannabis.
But there's still time to patch things up and get the ballot question finished; the group has until Feb. 8 to submit the 25, 673 signatures needed to make medical marijuana a ballot question in 2016.