Iowa senators want to legalize cannabis in state constitution

Iowa senators want to legalize cannabis in state constitution

by Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Three Democratic state senators said Tuesday they plan to propose a constitutional amendment that would legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in Iowa for people ages 21 and older.

“Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “It’s ending across America because it has caused far more harm than good.”

Bolkcom and fellow senators Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, and Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, said they will propose the amendment in the upcoming legislative session. They did not know whether the potential amendment would muster any support from Republicans, who control the Iowa House and Senate.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, told the Quad-City Times he would not move such legislation out of his committee. Sen. Jake Chapman, the Republican president of the Senate, did not immediately respond to a request to comment. Gov. Kim Reynolds declined to comment through her spokesperson.

Such amendments require passage by two successive general assemblies — which means a state election must take place between the first and second approvals by legislators — and a final approval by Iowa voters.

“We hope that Republicans will see the value in giving this decision over to Iowa voters,” said Bolkcom, who has unsuccessfully proposed legislation to legalize marijuana. He said more than 4,300 people were convicted of marijuana possession last year. Such convictions most often result in fines of hundreds or thousands of dollars and several days in jail, but repeat offenders can be sentenced to prison.

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll this year found that 54% of adults in the state favor legalization for recreational use. That support is up considerably from 2013, when the poll revealed 29% support.

The earlier poll was taken the year after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults — the result of statewide votes. Vermont was the first state to legalize the drug legislatively, in 2018. A total of 18 states allow adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

“The world is changing around us, and Iowa is being left behind,” Trone Garriott said.

Illinois is the only neighbor of Iowa with legal weed. South Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize it last year, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled last month that the amendment violated the state’s constitution because it dealt with more than one issue — the amendment legalized recreational and medical marijuana and hemp.

“Iowans are ready to join the growing list of states that are regulating marijuana for adult use,” said Petersen, the former Senate minority leader.

States that have legalized the drug have had annual tax revenue windfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars, but some adverse health consequences have followed. A University of Colorado study in 2015 found that some edible marijuana consumers unintentionally ate too much and that children were hospitalized after mistaking the products for treats and ingesting them.

Iowa Republicans have sought to amend the state constitution in recent years to restrict abortion rights and to preserve gun rights. In 2022, voters will decide whether to adopt an amendment that says: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected] Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.