Iowa considers lowering penalties for first-time pot possession

Iowa state lawmakers are considering a bill that would reduce penalties for possession of marijuana.

Even as many states have taken steps to decriminalize and even legalize recreational marijuana use, Iowa's marijuana laws remain among the toughest in the nation. However, as The Gazette reports, a bill currently being debated by state lawmakers could see Iowa reduce penalties for first-time possession of marijuana. Another bill would introduce important reforms to the state's medical marijuana laws. While neither bill would see Iowa actually legalize marijuana, they would be important steps towards keeping more people accused of marijuana offenses out of jail.

Lower possession penalties

The first marijuana-related bill is Senate File 2180, which would make first-time possession of five grams or less of marijuana a misdemeanor offense subject to up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625. Currently, first-time possession of up to five grams of marijuana is considered a serious misdemeanor subject to a six-month jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000. Furthermore, a serious misdemeanor on one's record can result in offenders being denied scholarships and college admission.

The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, although it will still need to pass the House before being sent to the governor's desk for a final signature. Supporters of the bill say that it would lead to 2,000 fewer marijuana convictions in the first year of its implementation and would lead to $150,000 in savings for the state and even more for local governments.

Medical marijuana changes and public support

A second bill, Senate File 2313, also recently cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and addresses problems with Iowa's current medical marijuana system. While the state legalized the production and distribution of medical marijuana last year, it placed severe restrictions on which treatments and patients were eligible. Senate File 2313 would allow for more ailments and treatments using medical marijuana.

Support for these changes is growing in Iowa. As the Des Moines Register reports, a recent poll found that 78 percent of Iowans support medical marijuana. While a majority of Iowans remain opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana, that opposition has softened from 69 percent against legalization in 2014 to 58 percent in 2018. Currently, eight states have legalized recreational marijuana, while 22 have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, including Iowa's neighbors Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, and Missouri.

Criminal defense help

As Iowa's drug laws change, it is important for those who have been accused of a drug crime to remain aware that they still face potentially severe consequences if convicted. While it is easy to believe that with so many other states decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana use that police and prosecutors in Iowa will treat offenders lightly, the truth is that Iowa still has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. That's why anybody accused of a drug offense needs to talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can advocate for the accused's rights and help him or her maintain their rights and freedoms.