Iowa Senate Democrats filed a bill decriminalizing personal amounts of marijuana and allowing cities to OK retail shops selling it, even though majority Republicans are unlikely to pass this one to the left.
As national Democrats slowly try to grind away at the prohibition of cannabis nationwide, with bills like the MORE Act in 2020 and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in 2022, support for legalizing it has increased among Iowans.
“Marijuana prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has been a wasteful and destructive failure,” the bill’s authors write. “About half of Americans admit to having used marijuana despite more than eight decades of prohibition.”
The bill, Senate File 73, wouldn’t legalize the drug like neighboring state Illinois has done. But it would lessen penalties for those over 21 who possess it without a prescription: A half-ounce or less of marijuana would be treated as a civil, not criminal, offense, punishable only by a fine of up to $100.
The bill would also allow those with marijuana convictions on their record to have them expunged after two years, and allow municipalities to legalize the sale of marijuana by retail dispensaries if they so choose.
Twenty-seven other US states have decriminalized marijuana, including Iowa’s bordering neighbors of Minnesota and Missouri, according to NORML, a group that lobbies for cannabis legalization.
The decriminalization bill was introduced by these state senators, all Democrats:
- Bill Dotzler and Eric Giddens of Black Hawk County;
- Sarah Trone Garriott of Dallas County,
- Pam Jochum of Dubuque County;
- Janice Weiner of Johnson County,
- Liz Bennett, Molly Donahue, and Todd Taylor of Linn County;
- Nate Boulton, Claire Celsi, Izaah Knox, and Janet Petersen of Polk County;
- Cindy Winckler of Scott County
They note Iowa’s harsh penalties for the drug waste law enforcement resources, as well as have an outsized effect on communities of color, who face more scrutiny and punishment despite using the drug at the same rates as white residents.
Decriminalizing it, by contrast, would help the state’s budget, as well as the municipalities that choose to allow retail dispensaries, Democrats say.
“Keeping marijuana illegal deprives the state of thousands of legal jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue,” the bill’s authors said.
Nevertheless, state Republicans—who hold a supermajority in the Iowa Senate—have shown no willingness to changing Iowa law regarding marijuana possession or sales, beyond passing a limited medical marijuana program.
by Amie Rivers
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