Staff Columnist

Iowa's Reynolds is part of 'more partisan than ever' marijuana policy outlook

Governor low on list of governors reforming marijuana laws, but she's not at the bottom

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds is the best of the worst among American governors on marijuana reform. Iowa’s Republican leader barely earned a passing grade in newly published ratings by a top marijuana policy reform group.

The National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML, put Reynolds in a unique position as the only governor receiving a D-. That suggests Iowa’s governor is pretty bad on drug reform, but not a lost cause.

Democrats nationally were rated much better than Republicans. In fact, no Republicans received an A grade, while no Democrats received an F grade.

Neighboring states’ marijuana laws show just how bad Iowa is

Support for marijuana expansion among top elected officials “is more partisan than ever before,” with zero Republican governors on the record supporting legal cannabis access for adults, NORML analysts wrote in their report. That may be disheartening to advocates, but encouragingly, that huge disparity is not reflected among the electorate.

Two-thirds of Americans — including 51 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of self-identified conservatives — support full marijuana legalization, according to a Gallup poll published last October.

In Iowa, more than three-fourths of the population — including 68 percent of Republicans — favor expanding the state’s medical cannabis program to include more dispensaries and more medical conditions, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll last year. Iowans are evenly split about legalizing nonmedical marijuana.

Iowans clearly want more sensible drug laws, but our elected leaders are painfully slow to take up the issue. What gives?

Reynolds and other Republican governors have not suffered political consequences from their inaction. Conservatives quickly are coming around to marijuana reform, but it’s not a make-or-break issue for most Republican voters.

Last year, Reynolds vetoed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support that would have made modest but important improvements to the medical cannabidiol program — increasing the cap on THC in medical products and authorizing more medical professionals to recommend treatment.

During a visit this week to a Davenport mental health center, Reynolds iterated her position that last year’s bill went too far on THC limits, but said she’s optimistic about reaching a compromise with legislators this session.

“I’ve talked to both parties in both chambers, and I think we’ll find some consensus. Probably won’t be what everybody likes, but, it’ll be movement and it will be movement in the right direction,” Reynolds said, as reported by WHBF and OurQaudCities.com.

It’s telling that Reynolds uses a term such as “movement in the right direction.” Everyone can plainly interpret “right direction” to mean more access to cannabis for more Iowans. It’s a subtle admission that drug reform is inevitable.

Unlike Reynolds, the eight governors receiving an F grade from NORML are steadfastly opposed to any marijuana legalization efforts, and several of them frequently and loudly promote disinformation about the hazards of marijuana.

Credit to Iowa’s governor for being better than a handful of her peers, but a D- still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

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

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