Staff Columnist

2020 was historic election for drug policy. Meanwhile in Iowa ...

It's getting lonely to be a prohibitionist in the Midwest.

A person smokes marijuana at a private residence in the West Loop during a Loopr Chicago Nightlife Tour in Chicago on Sa
A person smokes marijuana at a private residence in the West Loop during a Loopr Chicago Nightlife Tour in Chicago on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Tuesday was a good night for drugs. In more ways than one, probably.

As Iowans calmed their election result anxieties with Busch Light and consumable hemp products, Americans elsewhere voted overwhelmingly in favor of a historic set of drug reform measures.

New Jersey, Arizona and Montana voted for full marijuana legalization. New Jersey will become the first large state in the northeast to allow legal sales.

Sadly for criminal justice and public health advocates, there’s no good news on the horizon.

Mississippi voted to establish a medical marijuana program, and voters also rejected a separate proposal brought forth by state legislators that would have imposed unnecessary restrictions on the program.

South Dakota voted to legalize medical marijuana and adopt a state constitutional amendment ensuring adults can possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana.

Oregon and Washington, D.C. voted to lift restrictions on some psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms. Oregon also voted to decriminalize all drug possession, a first for the nation.

Meanwhile in Iowa, we still don’t have a real medical marijuana program, and treating yourself without government permission is a jailable offense. Our jails and prisons are overcrowded and COVID-19 is spreading inside. Opioid overdoses have gone largely unaddressed during the pandemic; the overdose-reversal treatment naloxone still is difficult to get and there is no legal syringe exchange program.

Sadly for criminal justice and public health advocates, there’s no good news on the horizon.

Republicans held control of the Iowa Legislature, all but ensuring there will be no major progress in the next two years. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is a staunch opponent of legal marijuana. I haven’t asked, but I bet she’s against “magic mushrooms” as well.

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At the federal level, a split Congress seems unlikely to reach a compromise on any kind of major drug reform package. Neither President Donald Trump nor candidate Joe Biden support full marijuana legalization, though Biden says he favors mandatory treatment over incarceration.

If serious drug policy reform can be done in South Dakota — a 61-percent Trump state, with Republicans in every statewide office — why can’t we do it in Iowa?

Neighboring states’ marijuana laws show just how bad Iowa is

Iowa Democrats’ infamous ‘legalize all drugs’ stance is aging well

Unlike the three red states where voters passed marijuana measures this week, Iowa does not have a referendum or initiative process, by which citizens can petition for referendums to be placed on the ballot.

If Iowans were allowed to vote on it, there’s a good chance we would approve marijuana too. A majority of Iowans favor legal marijuana, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released this year. That’s a reversal from two years prior, when 60 percent of Iowans said they opposed the idea.

It’s getting lonely to be a prohibitionist in the Midwest. South Dakota will join Illinois and Michigan in having legal marijuana. Serious reform efforts are underway in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Nebraska has had de facto decriminalization for small possession since the 1970s.

Governments might honor state borders, but cannabis plants do not. Weed from other states is illegally trafficked to Iowa and purchased on black market, and police can’t do much about it.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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