Guest Columnist

End cannabis prohibition in Iowa now

Kelsey Roberts points to various movie titles displayed on the television as her mother Mary scrolls through the offerin
Kelsey Roberts points to various movie titles displayed on the television as her mother Mary scrolls through the offerings at their home in Coralville, Iowa, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. Kelsey, who is autistic, takes medical cannabis to treat symptoms of her autism. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette) (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

On the morning of Jan. 2, our neighbors in Illinois awoke to find that their world hadn’t come to an end and the fabric of their society hadn’t crumbled in the wake of their Legislature’s decision to end their state’s harmful and unjust prohibition of cannabis. Indeed, life goes on in Illinois, apparently for the better, as close to $4 million in sales on day one bodes well for the future of legalized, regulated, recreational cannabis.

Meanwhile in Iowa, our nearly 100-year old war on cannabis goes on, pausing only to remind us that if we bring legally purchased cannabis products back to Iowa from states where it has been legalized we face criminal charges.

One bright spot in this dark age for Iowa is state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who deserves praise for his work toward ending Iowa’s prohibition. Bolkcom has proposed that our state tax and regulate cannabis like alcohol, something that over 65 percent of Americans agree with.

I would like to shed light on information that dispels much of the misinformation long used to prop up the wasteful and destructive prohibition policy.

Cannabis prohibition has been just as ineffective, inefficient, and problematic as alcohol prohibition. Polls show a strong and growing majority of Americans agree it is time to end it. An October 2018 Gallup poll found 66 percent of Americans think cannabis should be made legal and an October 2018 Pew Research Center poll found support at 62 percent.

Cannabis is objectively less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society. Researchers have consistently concluded that cannabis is less toxic than alcohol, it has less potential for addiction and it is less likely to contribute to serious medical problems. The U.S. CDC reports more than 30,000 alcohol-induced deaths per year, including more than 2,000 from acute overdose. It reports zero cannabis-induced deaths each year and there has never been a verified cannabis overdose death in history.

Regulating cannabis like alcohol will replace the uncontrolled illicit market with a tightly regulated system. By regulating cannabis, authorities will know who is selling it, where it is being sold, when, and to whom. Cannabis will be produced and sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses instead of drug cartels and criminals.

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Law enforcement officials’ time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for using cannabis. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are arrested each year for cannabis-related offenses, the majority of which are for simple possession.

Cannabis prohibition disproportionately impacts communities of color. Despite using cannabis at roughly the same rates as whites, blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested.

Prohibition wastes public resources, while cannabis taxation brings in needed revenue. The Congressional Research Service projected that replacing cannabis prohibition with taxation and regulation at the federal level would yield $6.8 billion in excise taxes alone. In Washington State, taxes on cannabis sales brought in more than $400 million in 2017.

I hope that you’ll contact your legislators to tell them why now is the time for cannabis prohibition to come to a merciful end in Iowa.

Ben Fortune lives in Iowa City.

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