State Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa announced on Monday that he plans to introduce a bill that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults. Under his proposal, marijuana would be regulated like alcohol by the state government.
“It is time for Iowa to end marijuana prohibition,” Bolkcom said at a news conference on Monday morning.
The senator said that his bill, which he plans to introduce in the coming weeks, would establish a regulatory infrastructure to cultivate, process, and sell cannabis for use by adults at least 21 years of age. The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division would be tasked with cannabis regulation and enforcement under the proposal. Bolkcom said that the legalization of cannabis can provide economic opportunities that will otherwise go to nearby cities in states that already have legal pot or will soon.
“There is an enormous amount of economic activity and job creation potential by regulating marijuana like we do alcohol,” Bolkcom said. “And we can sit by and watch those new businesses and new jobs go to Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, or to Rochester, Minnesota, and have Iowans take their hard-earned money and go to those states.”
Senator Argues for Legalization in Op-Ed
In an op-ed published by the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Friday, Bolkcom wrote that continued cannabis prohibition squanders scarce public resources.
“Despite the best efforts of the criminal justice system to protect us from this overly exaggerated threat and the hundreds of millions spent on police, courts, jails and prisons, Iowans are not safer or healthier,” he wrote. “By legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana to Iowa adults, we can refocus our criminal justice system on serious crime and expand substance abuse treatment programs.”
The racial disparity in the enforcement of cannabis laws was also noted by Bolkcom.
“The enforcement of marijuana prohibition has been grossly unequal. Even though black and white Iowans use marijuana at the same rate, black Iowans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. A law that cannot be equally enforced is blatantly unfair and erodes trust in our justice system,” he wrote.
Bolkcom also cited the collateral consequences that cannabis convictions can cause as another reason for legalization.
“Iowa’s continued prohibition of marijuana imposes a heavy burden on Iowa families in the form of lost jobs, legal bills, jail time, broken families, violence and crime,” he wrote. “Why should we keep spending millions and millions each year to arrest, prosecute, jail and punish thousands of Iowans for possessing a substance less harmful than legal alcohol?”
Although Bolkcom expects support from “a decent number” of fellow Democrats, he acknowledged on Monday that with both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office in Republican control, his bill has little prospect for success.
“I think as long as Republicans are in charge of state government, the chances of us ending marijuana prohibition are about zero,” he said.