Iowa lawmakers release proposal to put marijuana legalization on the ballot

Three Senate Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana in Iowa.



Three Iowa lawmakers hope to legalize recreational marijuana through constitutional amendment. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Caleb McCullough, Executive editor

Three Iowa lawmakers hoping to change the state’s marijuana laws shared their proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in the state on Wednesday. 

The amendment, announced in December, would transfer regulation of marijuana to Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverage Division and regulate it similar to alcohol. Adults over 21 years old would be able to purchase cannabis, and it would establish a tax rate up to 20 percent by the state and a local tax rate of up to 2 percent on retail sales.

“Iowa is losing jobs and revenue to other states that have moved ahead with mainstream marijuana reform,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Iowans want those jobs and economic development from regulating marijuana like alcohol, especially jobs that it will bring to rural Iowa.”

A constitutional amendment would have to be passed by two subsequent General Assemblies and then be put to a vote on the ballot in the following election. In the most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll in March 2021, 54 percent of Iowans surveyed said they supported legalizing recreational marijuana. 

Bolkcom and Sens. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, and Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who introduced the proposal, said they are hoping for bipartisan support on the measure. 

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“In the coming weeks, we will be searching for a few brave Republicans to join us in this bipartisan effort,” Bolkcom said. 

If all Democrats supported the measure, they would need support from 11 Republicans in the House and seven in the Senate to reach a majority. 

But it’s unclear how much support the measure will have from Republicans, or even Democrats, going into the 2022 session. In a press conference hosted by the Iowa Capitol Press Association on Tuesday, House Speaker Pat Grassley said he doesn’t see the measure advancing in the House. 

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said although she’s not in charge of a committee that would be considering the amendment, she doesn’t expect much support from Republicans in the Senate either. 

“We could have a conversation, it’s not necessarily going to advance,” she said. 

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Quad City Times in December he would not advance the resolution if it came before his committee.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said at Tuesday’s press conference House Democrats are looking at the issue, but she didn’t say whether they would support it.

“We’re talking about it from a philosophical and Iowa-based place in terms of what Iowans are telling us they want, but we don’t have anything ready to propose right now,” she said. 

The lawmakers proposing the amendment said they haven’t received any support from Republicans at this point. Petersen said she encourages Iowans to contact their representatives in the Legislature and ask them to support the proposal.

The lawmakers are attempting to use a constitutional amendment to bypass the requirement for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ approval that a traditional bill carries. 

Reynolds has opposed large expansions of Iowa’s medical cannabis laws in the past and said she doesn’t support legalization.

“We believe in Iowans and giving them the freedom to vote on moving our state forward with safer drug policies,” Petersen said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We’ve chosen to move forward with a constitutional amendment that takes the conversation to the people of Iowa.”

The full text of the proposed amendment can be found here.