THE BUZZ: Stony Session

By on October 6, 2015

How receptive are Teton County residents to legalizing weed?

Chris Christian waves to motorists at the rodeo grounds, where she has been setting up shop to collect signatures for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. Photo: Robyn Vincent

Chris Christian waves to motorists at the rodeo grounds, where she has been setting up shop to collect signatures for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. Photo: Robyn Vincent

Jackson, WY – Driving by the rodeo grounds Monday, motorists beheld a curious vision: a smiling white haired woman sweetly waving to passersby. Posted beside a white 1998 Ford Explorer draped in “Wyoming NORML” banners, Chris Christian sits in front of a table strewn with grape and lemon Dum Dums, bracelets, pens and a petition affixed to a clipboard displaying an anemic list of signatures. For the past two weeks, barring a few rainy days, when the clock strikes the appropriate time of 4:20 p.m., Christian can be found at the rodeo grounds coaxing motorists to pull into the dirt lot. On Monday, she set up shop at noon.

In The Planet’s Aug. 12 feature story, “High Hopes,” reporter Natosha Hoduski explained how the 66-year-old Jackson native is leading the charge for Wyoming NORML. The organization is tackling its most ambitious effort yet — to garner almost 26,000 statewide signatures by February 8 that will usher the Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative onto the November 2016 ballot. This initiative would present Wyoming voters with the opportunity to legalize medical marijuana in the Cowboy State.

“We’re pioneers,” Christian said. “This has never been done by a grassroots group in Wyoming.”

Surprisingly, however, in Jackson, where attitudes toward pot are seemingly more permissive than the rest of the state, Christian says she has not experienced an overwhelming reception, at least not yet. The Jackson resident began collecting signatures in mid August.

“We have compiled almost 700 signatures here in Jackson,” said Christian, who is responsible for amassing almost half that number. “But a couple nights ago we went to two bars and collected six signatures at one place and zero at the other.”

In Teton County, Wyoming NORML must capture a total of 2,200 names, or 15 percent of citizens who voted in the last election.

Christian frequents various places to entice registered voters, including the library, for “Weed Wednesdays,” (so far she has gotten just one signature here), Eleanor’s and various public events. She said she is not surprised that gleaning signatures in Jackson hasn’t been as easy as garnering support in places such as Cheyenne, where Wyoming NORML deputy director Lee Roth reports his team has already collected more than 2,000 signatures. Though Roth has thousands more to go.

“It’s been harder to get people to come out in Jackson than other places in Wyoming because we are very image conscious and we are very aware of what other people say about us in this town,” Christian said. “Businesses here are built on a reputation and cannabis was negatively looked at until recently. It is a change of perception we need to have here … just as other states that have legalized it have had.”

Christian also chalks up some difficulties to the number of out-of-state visitors passing through the valley at any given time. These folks are futile to the cause — it is only registered Wyoming voters who can etch their names in the rectangle box.

It might also have a thing or two to do with Christian’s appearance. “People probably think I’m a narc,” laughed the grandmother of five. Indeed, it was amusing to witness more than a few puzzled faces drive by Monday as Christian, donned in a tropical flowered hat adorned with weed buttons, kindly saluted motorists.

As the sun baked the dirt on the rodeo grounds, a 20-something man sporting a backwards baseball cap stealthily crept out of the lot in a blue SUV. Christian didn’t miss a beat, raising her hand to waive as she spotted him drive toward the gate. “You would think he would have stopped by,” she lamented.

But there were more than a few folks who did stop and each brought with them a different sensibility to the conversation.

Eighteen-year-old Sasha Johnstone arrived on a cruiser bike.

“Did you go register to vote yet?” Christian asked Johnstone as he approached the table.

Apparently Johnstone had already attempted to sign the petition, but his eighteenth birthday happened just two weeks ago and registering to vote wasn’t first on his I’m-now-18-to-do list. Until now, that is.

“You just came back for the suckers, huh? Go ahead, you can take some more,” smiled Christian as she unwittingly slipped into grandma mode.

Johnstone politely declined. “I don’t really care about politics,” he admitted in earnest, “but the idea of getting weed legalized in Wyoming would get me to register to vote.”

While this remark is far from surprising when considering its source, Johnstone finds himself in sharply different drug territory than the youth of just a decade ago. “It’s much easier to get oxycodone or hydrocodone or acid around here, but I can’t find weed,” he said. “My friends and I would rather smoke weed, but it’s too difficult to get.”

As this reporter considered the notion that it may be easier for high school students in a ski town to obtain narcotic pharmaceuticals than marijuana, a car pulled up next to Christian’s table.

“I’ve driven by three times already and I’ve meant to stop every time,” exclaimed a salt-and-pepper haired man as he approached the table.

“What have you got around your neck?’ Christian asked.

The man touched his airport security badge. It just so happened to be Mike Gierau, a former Jackson town councilman and Teton County commissioner, as well as the owner of Jedediah’s and co-chair of Jackson Hole Air.

“One of the best things about living in Wyoming is that people are big on their rights and personal rights of choice and to live the life they want to live … so this seems like the natural choice,” Gierau said. “I have been driving by and I thought, ‘No, I need to stop and sign it.’ Another reason I stopped by is, if you are willing to sit here I knew I needed to stop and sign my name.”

When a middle-aged woman arrived in a navy Subaru Outback only a few moments after Gierau, she brought with her not only a willingness to sign her name but also the reason that compels Christian’s work. Draping her SUV in banners and posters, setting up her modest signature gathering station, and patiently waving at every car that passes by – most who do not acknowledge her in any way – Christian says she is immersed in the battle to legalize medical marijuana because of people like Wendy Smith, who say they found relief from weed when nothing else helped.

“I had cancer in 2001 and went through chemo and radiation at the same time,” Smith explained as she scribbled her name on the petition. “When I finally decided to smoke pot that was the only thing that got me through. It needs to be available for people in pain and that’s something I firmly believe. I took a couple meds they prescribed for nausea and it didn’t help me, but smoking pot in the garage was like flipping a light switch.” PJH

To get involved with Wyoming NORML, call Chris Christian at 307-413-4425, visit WyomingNORML.org to sign up to circulate a petition or send an email to [email protected]

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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