By Iowa City Press-Citizen
Back in 1979, then state representatives Dale Hibbs (R-Iowa City) and Bob Arnould (D-Davenport) helped shepherd a bill through the Iowa House that would have allowed marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. With such bipartisan support, the bill managed to get out of committee and onto the House floor for a full debate.
After a few hours of grueling political circus, the sponsors decided to withdraw the bill because it was abundantly clear that there wasn’t the support necessary to pass the measure in that legislative session.
It turns out that Hibbs, Arnould and the other sponsors of the bill were just ahead of their time.
Their bill came two decades before the University of Iowa held the first ever conference on the question of marijuana’s medicinal value in 2000.
Their bill came three decades before the Iowa Board of Pharmacy — after hosting a series of public forums across the state — unanimously voted to ask the Iowa Legislature to legalize the drug for medical use to change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug (the most tightly regulated category for drugs) to a Schedule II drug (a category that already includes substances such as Demerol, opium and morphine).
And their bill came 33 years before Colorado and Washington voted not only to approve marijuana for medical use, not only to decriminalize the drug, but to legalize it for recreational use.
We don’t think Iowa is ready to follow Colorado and Washington into full legalization. A 2010 Iowa Poll published in The Des Moines Register, for example, found that while 64 percent of Iowans supported medical marijuana, less than a third favored legalizing the drug for recreational use.
But along with that clear majority of our fellow Iowans, we do think the case has been made for allowing marijuana to be regulated for medical use. And we also think the case has been made for changing Iowa’s possession laws — which are among the harshest in the nation.
“We’ve got a prison population that is made up of a lot of people that haven’t really committed a violent crime, other than smoking some marijuana,” state Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, told The Des Moines Register. “It doesn’t do anybody any good. We’re not fixing a drug problem by sending people to jail with a bunch of other drug problems.”
Hunter’s sentiment, not surprisingly, matches one of the many messages being sent earlier this month by Johnson County residents who voted against proposals for a new justice center. The actual numbers, of course, show that the Johnson County jail would still be grossly overcrowded even if it contained no one with a marijuana charge. But it’s hard to make that case to voters when the state has some of the strictest pot laws in the nation.
Unfortunately, over the past three decades, the handful of bills in the House and Senate that would legalize medical marijuana have languished. And Gov. Terry Branstad has vowed to veto bills legalizing marijuana for any use.
But we hope the recent votes in Colorado and Washington will help ensure that Iowa continues to have a mature conversation about medical marijuana and other forms of decriminalization.