DES MOINES -- The production, sale and recreational use of marijuana would be legal in Iowa under pending legislation that even its author says has little to no chance of being passed into law.

Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, on Monday announced his plan to introduce legislation that would end the prohibition of marijuana in Iowa.

Joe Bolkcom


Bolkcom said legalizing recreational marijuana likely remains a pipe dream so long as Republicans control the state lawmaking process in Iowa -- the state’s governor is Republican as are the majorities in the Iowa House and Senate -- and remarks from GOP legislators seemed to confirm as much.

But Bolkcom said he wanted to spark the conversation in Iowa because he feels support is increasing in the Midwest. Michigan voters in November voted to make recreational marijuana legal, and state leaders in Minnesota and Illinois are discussing the possibility.

Nationally, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use.

“I think legal marijuana is coming to the Midwest,” Bolkcom said. “It’s time for us in Iowa to begin to have a serious discussion about how we might tackle that or move away from prohibition.”

Bolkcom said the prohibition of marijuana has been bad policy because it is expensive for local governments and the state to arrest, prosecute and jail people who sell or use marijuana, and because black Iowans are disproportionately jailed for marijuana use.

He said legalizing marijuana would create jobs for businesses that would grow and sell the product, and Iowa stands to lose those jobs to neighboring states that may act sooner.

“Iowa should stop wasting millions of dollars and destroying the lives of our citizens,” Bolkcom said. “We should instead welcome the new businesses, jobs and economic opportunity that Iowa can gain by regulating marijuana like alcohol.”

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Bolkcom said his proposal will recommend Iowans be 21 years or older to legally purchase marijuana, and that the state’s alcoholic beverages division would regulate the industry. He said marijuana would be taxed, and any state revenue would help fund prevention and anti-addiction programs.

That was not enough to sway Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale and key Senate committee leader.

“I am not open-minded,” Zaun said. “If that bill comes to the judiciary committee (that Zaun chairs), it won’t go anywhere.”

Zaun has been supportive of attempts to expand Iowa’s medical cannabis program, which allows Iowans to use an oil derived from the marijuana plant for medical uses if they have a physician’s recommendation. But on Monday he made clear the distinction between his desire to expand the medical cannabis program and his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana use.

“Will it come someday? Yeah, probably. But not at this time while I’m the judiciary (committee) chair,” Zaun said.

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