Is Iowa moving to decriminalize weed possession? Currently, Iowa is the epitome of marijuana prohibition. Lawmakers have been pushing for years to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Yet the state legislature just cannot seem to wrap its head around it.
As for passing a law allowing adults 21 and older to purchase pot in a manner similar to beer? Forget about it. The taxed and regulated concept is just radical enough to make their heads spin in Des Moines. However, there is some traction in an Iowa Senate committee for reducing the penalties associated with pot.
Senate Panel Votes to Reduce Criminal Penalties for Pot
The word on the street is this modest reform is possible. On Thursday, the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure in a voice vote that could lead to fewer penalties for pot offenders. The bill, which was introduced by Senate Brad Zaun, would make a first-time offense for marijuana possession a simple misdemeanor.
Judges would have the right to send pot offenders to jail for up to 30 days and hit them with fines of around $625. Presently, anyone convicted of marijuana possession receives a criminal misdemeanor. This offense comes with a penalty of up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
Lawmakers say the proposal will not let potheads off the hook. But rather, give non-violent drug offenders a second chance to pull their lives together. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Zaun said he does not “condone” the use of marijuana.
But, on the other hand, he doesn’t believe it is fair for young people to forfeit college and employment opportunities because of a weed possession change.
“I think that this is to allow someone who the first time makes that mistake. We know that this activity is happening, but this is a good step to allow these people to have a second chance,” Zaun said.
Reduced Penalties, Not Decriminalization
Although some will call Zaun’s proposal a decriminalization measure, it is far from it. The bill only serves to make the penalties associated with small-time pot possession a little less harsh than in the past. With decriminalization, a pot offender is typically ticketed and forced to pay a small fine. A police officer might also confiscate the weed. But these people are not put in jail. And their record remains unscathed.
These policies have been effective in several jurisdictions across the United States. Last year, a number of cities in Florida moved to stop busting pot offenders. And shortly before Washington D.C. legalized the cultivation, possession, and transfer of marijuana, police officials there praised the city’s decriminalization law.
Not only do these policies free up law enforcement resources, allowing them to focus on real crime, they also protect the rights of American citizens.
Zaun’s proposal, however, is much more conservative. Iowa pot offenders would still be arrested and booked into jail. Depending on the situation, their vehicle could be impounded and perhaps even permanently seized.
Loss of employment and a wide range of other hardships are also possible under the proposal. Basically, pot offenders would still be raked over the coals. They would just spend less time in jail and pay less expensive fines.
Final Hit: Is Iowa Moving To Decriminalize Weed Possession?
Although there is some support for in Iowa for decriminalization, lawmakers believe Zaun’s reduced penalty plan is a step in the right direction. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
Similar legislation has landed in the Senate and died a miserable death. So it remains to be seen whether reduced penalties for pot possession is even something the state is prepared to embrace.
But more progressive policies are necessary. In 2016, Iowa courts convicted almost 3,400 people of simple marijuana possession. Reports show that Zaun’s legislation could help hundreds of people each year remain clean of a criminal record.
Not to mention it could keep more people from spending time in prison or other state correctional programs, like probation.
But is Iowa moving to decriminalize weed possession? The answer is unequivocally no.