The recommendation, if acted upon, would make cannabis possession the lowest priority within city limits, effectively decriminalizing possession. This resolution was unanimously approved by the Des Moines City Council, but only on the condition that if the state or country legalize, decriminalize, etc., the city will immediately decriminalize. It will have to be brought before the city within 30 days of state or federal legalization.
According to some objectors, like Police Chief Dana Wingert, without a change on a larger government level, there could be danger in “arbitrarily assigning a level of ‘seriousness’ or ‘priority,’ beyond what is currently established by Iowa Code, is problematic.”
Pushing For Justice
While decriminalization could truly be on the horizon, state legalization is unlikely. Governor Kim Reynolds does not support legal cannabis. A more likely scenario would be the state decriminalizing cannabis, as there is currently a bill to that effect in the state Senate. This bill is the first time the state has shown support for legalizing cannabis in any form.
Advocates in Iowa, knowing that there is a long battle to fight, have mainly been focused on reducing cannabis arrests, or eliminating strict penalties for arrest. Black Iowa residents are statistically 7.3 times more likely than white Iowa residents to be arrested for cannabis, so many social justice advocates are also pushing for decriminalization.
Because of this, many feel that the state has thus far not done enough to help with making things more equal. Speakers at a recent city council meeting claimed that the city hasn’t done their part to make sure police are aware of this issue and not going after cannabis.
In response, city officials like Ward 3 Councilman Josh Mandelbaum claim that the city is being proactive by getting ready to decriminalize as soon as the state or country makes a move.
“I know there’s more we need to do beyond this, but this is a positive step,” said Mandelbaum regarding the hesitation. “This resolution is being proactive about (the recommendations) and having us take action even before state law allows it, to direct our staff to be prepared if state law allows it.”
He also added that, in the case that the state and country do not legalize, Des Moines needs to “take a hard look” at this ordinance and decide if they want to implement it or not.
Ward 4 Councilman Joe Gatto claimed that the city “can’t ask police to enforce certain laws and turn their back on other laws. … I would take a lot of the energy that we’ve heard from some of these speakers, and go to the Statehouse, lobby the Governor, lobby your state legislature, lobby the federal government with this new administration.”
Additionally, the city claims it still has certain points of the ordinance to still work out, including how to deal with traffic stops and other encounters when it comes to keeping a log of what occurred.