Three Iowa Senators Aim To Legalize Recreational Cannabis

A trio of Democratic lawmakers in Iowa want to bring cannabis legalization to the ballot. 

The idea comes via three state senators, Joe Bolkcom, Janet Petersen and Sarah Trone Garriott, who said at a press conference on Tuesday that they intend to push a constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational pot use for adults aged 21 and older. 

“Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure,” said Bolkcom, who represents Iowa City (home to the University of Iowa), as quoted by local television station KWQC. “It’s ending across America because it has caused far more harm than good.”

The station reported that the proposal “requires a simple majority in both the state house and senate in two consecutive General Assemblies to be included on a ballot,” and that once it is in on the ballot, “more than half of Iowans need to vote for the amendment for it to become a part of the state’s constitution.” KWQC added that the three lawmakers “already submitted language to the Legislative Services Agency to propose this amendment in the next legislative session.”

“Right now, you can go to Hy-Vee or Kum & Go, and buy a six-pack of beer,” Bolkcom said, according to the television station. “What this constitutional amendment would do… it would basically begin to treat marijuana like we treat a six-pack of beer.”

Bolkcom, Petersen and Trone Garriott pointed to survey data showing that voters in the Hawkeye State are ready to end pot prohibition. A poll earlier this year from thee Des Moines Register found that “54 percent of adults [in Iowa] say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use, 39 percent oppose it and six percent are unsure,” which the newspaper reported was “about the same level of support shown in a March 2020 Iowa Poll, which for the first time found a majority of Iowans (53 percent) favored legalizing recreational marijuana.”

It is a marked increase since 2013, when the same poll found “just 29 percent of Iowa adults said they favored the idea; 68 percent opposed it and three percent were unsure.”

“Iowans are ready to join the growing list of states that are regulating marijuana for adult use,” said Petersen, as quoted by Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The senators also pointed to Iowa’s neighbor to the east, Illinois, which has legalized pot and currently boasts a thriving recreational market. South Dakota, another state bordering Iowa, may also look to pass a legalization measure next year after efforts to end prohibition were stymied by the state’s court system.

“The world is changing around us, and Iowa is getting left behind,” Trone Garriott said, as quoted by KWQC. “Unlike many of our neighboring states, the citizens of Iowa do not have the ability to put this issue on the ballot as referendum. So, we think it’s time that I once got to have a voice and a vote in this matter.”

But the three Democrats are already facing immediate opposition from Republicans in the legislature. GOP state Senator Brad Zaun, who chairs the senate judiciary committee, told a local newspaper that the bill will not make it out of committee.

“Gimmicks like a constitutional amendment on recreational marijuana do a better job of illustrating the lack of ideas Senate Democrats have to solve the problems of Iowans than any response I have,” Zaun told the Quad-City Times. “I have no intention of advancing this bill out of the judiciary committee.”

Bolkcom took to Twitter on Tuesday to call out Republicans, saying the party is out of step with the majority of Iowans on the issue.

“This has become a mainstream issue. The majority of Iowans support this,” Bolkcom said, according to the Quad-City Times. “The Republicans are in the minority on this. That said, we need their help to move this constitutional amendment to voters so they can have their voices heard.”

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