Editorial | Iowa loses when cannabis is criminalized

Iowans suffer under the criminalization of recreational cannabis. It’s time to legalize it.

DI Editorial Board

Iowans suffer under the criminalization of cannabis. Our prisons are overwhelmed with Iowans charged with possession of even small amounts of recreational marijuana — a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to six months imprisonment for a first offense— and the economy loses out on revenue and even jobs.

Even Iowa’s medical cannabis program is severely limited in comparison to other states, restricting access to the drug to aid Iowans in need for conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and many others.

The conversation about legalizing cannabis in the state is ongoing, and progress can still be made soon. In January, Iowa lawmakers Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, and Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in the state and regulate it similarly to alcohol usage.

Their proposal would make it legal for adults over 21 years old to purchase cannabis, establishing a tax rate of up to 20 percent by the state and a local tax rate of up to 2 percent on retail sales.

It is estimated that marijuana arrests cost the nation billions of dollars every year. This legalization would free up these costs and boost the economy in Iowa, especially with the high incarceration rate. It has been reported that if Iowa was a country it would have the second highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Of course, our governor is hesitant. Gov. Kim Reynolds has been firm and clear in her opposition to cannabis legalization.

In order to address mass incarceration in Iowa Gov. Reynolds needs to look at legalizing marijuana. There are alarming disparities in our prison system that are fueled by the criminalization of marijuana. Data showed Iowa has the seventh highest disparity in imprisonment between Black and white populations.

According to ACLU data, Black Iowans are nearly eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Iowans.  Additionally, marijuana arrests make up 55 percent of all drug arrests in Iowa, despite the state ranking 47th in overall marijuana use, as of 2020. The criminalization of marijuana disproportionately displaces people of color serving as one part of a large oppressive system.

Recently, Iowa was ranked the third worst place for Black people to live. The data was taken considering housing gaps, education, prison rates, poverty level, and more. The mass incarceration of Black Iowans certainly contributes to all of those issues. To address these disparities Gov. Kim Reynolds needs to be willing to decriminalize marijuana.

In addition to the legalization of marijuana being necessary to address racial disparities, a large part of Iowans are in favor of this decriminalization. Polls showed 54 percent of Iowans agreed with the legalization of marijuana. Additionally, 78 percent thought the medical marijuana programs should be expanded.

Several of Iowa’s neighboring states have taken steps to either decriminalize certain recreational marijuana possession or make cannabis legal altogether.  Illinois legalized marijuana use for adults. Minnesota, Nebraska, and Missouri have taken steps to decriminalize simple possessions.

All the signs point toward decriminalization of marijuana being the best thing for Iowa. Legalizing cannabis is not just necessary economically but also to address mass incarceration. It is clear our leaders should take steps toward decriminalization to do what is right for Iowans.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Sophia Meador, and Yassie Buchanan.