Iowa: Ask your legislators to support the voter referral to end cannabis prohibition!
Iowa lags behind other states; legislators propose voter referendum on legalization
Last update: January 13, 2022
Iowa is lagging behind other states both in the nation as a whole and in its region on marijuana policy. Unlike 31 other states, Iowa continues to arrest individuals for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neighboring Illinois has legalized cannabis for adults, while Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri have decriminalized simple possession.
But in Iowa, first-offense possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, one of the most severe first-offense penalties in the country. These draconian penalties hit communities of color the hardest. According to data complied by the ACLU, Black Iowans are nearly eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana prohibition than white individuals.
After years of legislative inaction, three state senators have proposed a new approach to reform — referring the question of legalization to voters. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D), Sen. Janet Petersen (D), and Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D) have put forth a proposal to amend the Iowa Constitution that would provide, “the possession, growth, cultivation, processing, manufacture, preparation, packaging, transferal, consumption, and retail sale and purchase of cannabis, or products created from or including cannabis, by persons 21 years of age or older, shall be lawful.”
The proposal would first need to pass the Iowa Senate and House in two consecutive legislative sessions. (The governor does not have veto power over legislative referrals.) Then, it would need to be approved by voters. Outrageously, Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) says he won’t even give the proposal a committee vote.
Iowa lacks a citizen initiative process, so the only way to change state law is for the legislature itself to pass a law, or for the legislature to refer the question to voters.
You can also ask them to support decriminalization in the meantime — imposing a modest fine, not jail time, on simple possession. Sen. Joe Bolkcom’s SB 407 — which carries over from 2021 — would reduce various penalties involving cannabis, including reducing the penalty for adults 21 and older possessing up to half an ounce to a $100 civil fine.
Medical CBD program expands, but remains too restrictive for many patients
On June 29, 2020, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill (HF 2589) that expands the list of medical conditions that qualify for medical cannabis preparations, revises the amount of THC that can be possessed, and makes other changes — both good and bad — to the state's medical cannabidiol program. The law:
Revised the previous 3% THC cap to instead allow products with a total of 4.5 grams of THC every 90 days, with exceptions for cases where providers specify a specific, greater quantity is needed;
Added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism with self-harm to the list of qualifying conditions;
Allows any patient with “chronic pain” — instead of “untreatable pain” — to qualify, thus greatly expanding the number of pain patients who qualify;
Allows podiatrists, physicians' assistants, and advance practice nurses to recommend cannabis;
Removed the Department of Transportation’s role in ID cards; and
Allows property owners and employers to ban medical cannabis use and provides that workers' compensation and health care do not have to cover medical cannabis.
Reports on the program are available here. As of August 2021, 1,489 health care practitioners had issued certifications for 6,831 active patients.
In 2019, Gov. Reynolds vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients purchase medical cannabis preparations with up to 25 grams of THC over 90 days. The current default limit — 4.5 grams every 90 days — is insufficient for many patients.
Medical cannabidiol access was dramatically reduced in 2020, when one of the state’s two manufacturers and two of the state’s five medical cannabidiol dispensaries permanently closed. Since then, replacement licenses were awarded to the Iowa Cannabis Company, which has opened dispensaries in Iowa City, Council Bluffs, and Waterloo.
Iowa’s law continues to have some major shortcomings that drive up prices and limit access, including that it prohibits cannabis in its natural, flower form, that edibles are not allowed, and that it has far too few manufacturers and dispensing locations. When Iowa Relief’s operations closed, The Gazette quoted Cedar Rapids Councilmember Dale Todd explaining, “Draconian parameters that were set on the industry’s ability to market and sell medical cannabis resulted in the demise of this business. The limited market prevented the industry from developing a sustainable business model, and everybody seemed to know that this would be the case. It’s like watching a ship sink slowly.”
Iowa borders Illinois, where cannabis preparations — including flower and edibles — are available to any adult who is 21 or older.