Government

Iowa Senate leader: Raise tobacco age to 21; no to legalized marijuana

Jack Whitver also warns about bringing pot back to Iowa from Illinois

State Sen. Jack Whitver (left) answers questions during a media briefing at the Iowa Capitol. Whitver, the Senate majori
State Sen. Jack Whitver (left) answers questions during a media briefing at the Iowa Capitol. Whitver, the Senate majority leader, said Friday that Republicans, who control both the Iowa Senate and the House, will be looking at raising the age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 but are not interested in legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes in Iowa. (The Gazette)

JOHNSTON — Iowa’s top Senate Republican says he favors raising to 21 the state’s legal age for possessing tobacco and e-cigarette products, but he does not want to follow Illinois’ lead in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said Friday he supports legislation to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for buying, possessing or using tobacco, vapor or alternative nicotine products to help address vaping problems among Iowa high school students.

Senate File 607 stalled last session, but Whitver said the concept has widespread support heading into the Legislature’s 2020 work.

“That’s a real issue and a serious issue,” Whitver said during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.”

“With vaping, a lot of it is anecdotal at this time because it’s such a new thing, but some of the anecdotes that are coming out are scary,” he said. ‘If we can raise it to 21, we think that might have a shot to eliminate vaping that’s occurring in our schools.”

State public health officials report 49 cases in Iowa of respiratory problems related to vaping — including 39 resulting from the use of vaping and e-cigarette products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. No vaping-related deaths have been reported in Iowa.

Whitver said the issues stemming from marijuana-derived cannabis for medical use likely will get the attention of legislators and Gov. Kim Reynolds again next session as they look to modify Iowa’s fairly restrictive medical marijuana law.

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But Statehouse Republicans, he said, won’t consider any move toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use similar to an Illinois law that takes effect Jan. 1.

“I don’t think that there’s any appetite right now to go recreational in the state of Iowa,” he told reporters after the IPTV taping.

“We’re going to do what’s best for Iowa, and we’re not going to take the lead from Illinois on this or frankly anything else,” Whitver told the “Iowa Press” panel.

He also warned Iowans tempted to cross the Mississippi River to buy marijuana or CBD products that they could face federal criminal charges if they transport products across the state line.

“Iowans may decide to go to Illinois and do that. I would caution against that,” he said. “Once you bring it back to Iowa, you’re crossing federal lines, and that’s a federal crime so I would caution against that.”

Whitver told reporters that majority GOP senators may once again pass legislation to lower Iowa’s criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana as part of a push for criminal justice reforms being spearheaded by the governor, but there’s been no discussion about that yet in caucus or with majority Republicans in the Iowa House.

Unlike other states that are using issues like legalizing marijuana or sports betting to generate revenue to balance their budgets, Whitver said Iowa’s state government is in strong financial shape and legislators did not use last session’s bill to legalize sports wagering as a vehicle to generate more state revenue.

Through October, Iowa’s $93.6 million in sports-betting “handle” had resulted in $861,846 in revenue to the state.

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Since more than half of the sports wagering that has taken place since the Aug. 15 startup has been conducted via mobile apps with online links, Whitver said he anticipates Iowa Lottery administrators and players may again push legislators to expand sales of lottery products online in the 2020 session.

“Certainly there will be a push to expand lottery to mobile devices. I think we should be very careful about that,” the Senate majority leader said. “I think we should take our time and see how this sports gaming bill works before we start having that conversation about the lottery.”

The “Iowa Press” interview with Whitver will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 and at noon Dec. 15 on IPTV; at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 14 on IPTV World; and online at iptv.org.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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