IOWA CITY – State, county and city Democrat leaders, who are advocates for marijuana reform, met Jan. 6 via Zoom to discuss their plan to seek bipartisan support for loosening Iowa’s marijuana laws during Iowa’s 2021 legislative session.
Senator Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he’ll introduce three proposals in the legislature this year. One would mostly legalize marijuana. Another would decriminalize it at the state level and expunge records for offenders with small amounts of marijuana. A third bill would give local governments authority to decriminalize small amounts.
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said, in total, there are 15 states and the District of Columbia, which have already chartered a course to how to regulate marijuana. He claimed, by regulating it like alcohol, these changes to the law can replace an illicit market with “thousands of new jobs,” increase tax revenues for essential services, expand access for medical needs, and urge law enforcement to shift their focus to more serious crimes.
“While there may be several different paths to marijuana reform, and many solutions and ideas to consider, we’re all here today because we agree, that when it comes to the growing medical need, the economic opportunity, and overdue racial equity and social justice, regulating marijuana like alcohol is the right thing to do,” said Teague.
Iowa Republicans, who hold the majority in the legislature, do not support the measures for decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.
Senator Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said today’s marijuana is not the same as it was 50 years ago.
“This stuff is much stronger than it was,” he said.
Shipley also said he’s been paying attention to the outcomes of legalization in other states, such as Colorado, which was first in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.
“People like to point to Colorado being a big success story when, in fact, there’s a lot of that story that doesn’t get a lot of attention,” said Shipley.
Shipley said impaired driving has drastically increased in Colorado since marijuana was first legalized, that it hasn’t generated enough tax revenue as predicted, and regulation has created a black market for distributors to skirt paying taxes.
“I want to look at it. I’m not going to support anything until I’ve looked at it. There are a lot of people who have a lot of different definitions of decriminalization,” said Shipley.
When asked what would be an “ideal situation” in terms of marijuana reform pertaining to decriminalization, Shipley said, “maybe less jail time.”
“It costs a lot of money to put a person in jail and I’m not sure that money is accomplishing anything,” said Shipley.
Representative Tom Moore, R-Grinnell will not consider any bills leading to legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I’m a no and will always be a no on recreational marijuana,” said Moore. “It is not a tax revenue boom for the state, because it carries with it so many inherent problems.”
The inherent issues Moore speaks of include increases in driving impairment, teenage substance abuse, and societal costs of treating abuse.
“To me they overwhelm the thoughts that recreational marijuana is this huge boom for the state,” Moore said.
Moore said, until the federal government changes the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug – labeling marijuana as dangerous as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, quaaludes and peyote – he will never consider its legalization.
“Now, if you want to talk about decriminalization, that’s something I’m going to have to look at and see. Do we want marijuana users to have the same sentencing as cocaine users? Maybe not,” Moore said.
Bolkcom said Democrats hope to work with Reynolds on decriminalizing marijuana, if she isn’t willing to go as far as legalizing possession.
“Maybe there’s some common ground to be found on a shorter step in terms of marijuana reform,” Bolkcom said.