HB 29 is a bill introduced by representative James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) that lessens several penalties associated with possession of small amounts of marijuana. It passed the Judiciary committee yesterday morning with a 7-2 vote. Its survival gave a small, but promising victory to a subject area that sees bills killed every year. The way the bill passed, however was more unique than the bill itself.
The public testimony started with the predictable lineup of state employees, legal experts and even an ACLU rep. When Deb Palm-Egle approached the cramped room’s microphone, she looked auspiciously normal. A bespectacled woman in her early 60’s, blonde hair growing fairer by the day, Deb not only looked like the majority of people that testify at Wyoming’s public hearings, but the majority of people in the state itself. Bluntly, she looked like she was about to launch into a diatribe about the evils of demon weed and rock n’ roll.
“My name is Deborah Palm-Egle,” she started, and after some light hearted ribbing from the chairman on the spelling of her name, she pushed “and I have M.S.” through a tired smile. The room grew solemn. She recounted her difficulties with steroids and other traditional treatments, before her doctor recommended she try marijuana. So she did. And for a few hours at a time, her symptoms subsided. This was in the late 1980’s, and as the potency of available marijuana improved, Deb had to smoke less and less until today, when she barely finishes a joint a day. It is worth noting that Mrs. Palm-Egle splits most of her year between Wyoming and Colorado, allowing her to grow her own powerful, legal and relatively cheap medical marijuana. Over time, Deb’s ailing family members wanted to try her herbal remedy too. She recounted tense car rides over the border during the final few months of her niece’s tenacious battle with ovarian cancer. Though her fight ended tragically, Deb’s niece had a similar reaction to the plant as her aunt; pain relief, increased appetite, restful sleep and a boost in mood and mentality that gave her overall quality of life an unquestionable upgrade. Deb went on to describe a surviving family member’s chronic illness and her terror in bringing the 84 year-old this life-changing medicine. “But what is a family member supposed to do?” she wondered aloud.
As Mrs. Palm-Egle told her story, heads started nodding on the committee. Her tale of healing, the fear imposed on her by government regulation, and her dedication to family was winning the red-tinted committee over. And before surrendering the mic, she asked “Where is a Republican Supposed to find some pot!?” But the real question hit the ears of the committee just as intended: “Where is a white, 60 year old, female, republican with legitimate health concerns supposed to get some pot?” Smiles spread across the faces of more than a couple committee members (who shall go unnamed), while light bulbs flashed over the heads of others. The committee was finally accepting the thesis statement that Deb had offered early in her remarks: “It’s not just teenagers doing this!” Deb, the legislators came to recognize, was the responsible, adult marijuana user that they’d been told about year after year. The idea of medical marijuana wasn’t just an excuse for otherwise healthy young people with a conveniently bum knee to pick up some wacky tobacky, it could help very sick people to lead fuller lives.
And so the bill passed. Heavily modified, but the bill passed. Its amendments, arguably giving the bill the extra oomph needed to pass with a strong, bipartisan majority.
This bill, while uniquely successful, doesn’t represent a change in lawmaker thinking, but rather their interpretation of voters’ wishes. This is Wyoming, and small government has always been a popular saying, but only recently has that begun to apply to people’s personal lives. With a public that cares less and less about what others do in the privacy of their own homes, it seems like lawmakers are finally starting to get a hint of the times. The bill’s still got some bicameral traveling to do before it’s official, but keep your fingers crossed that HB 29 becomes law.
The HB 29 failed in the house this afternoon with a vote of 22-38.