Iowa Democratic senators on Wednesday released the text of a joint resolution to put the question of marijuana legalization before voters on the state’s ballot.
The proposed constitutional amendment says that “the possession, growth, cultivation, processing, manufacture, preparation, packaging, transferal, consumption, and retail sale and purchase of cannabis, or products created from or including cannabis, by persons 21 years of age or older, shall be lawful.”
Sens. Joe Bolkcom (D), Janet Petersen (D) and Sarah Trone Garriott (D), who first unveiled their marijuana reform plan last month, say inaction on the issue in the GOP-controlled legislature meant they needed to pursue the alternative route to end prohibition.
“We are proposing this constitutional amendment for voters to decide because Republicans have repeatedly refused to engage in any meaningful debate about marijuana reform,” Bolkcom said at a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “Governor [Kim] Reynolds is strongly opposed to marijuana reform and, of the 92 Republicans currently in the Iowa General Assembly, there is not a single member that has expressed support for regulating marijuana like alcohol.”
Trone Garriott said in a press release that “marijuana is easily accessible for adult use in neighboring states. Because of that, Iowa still has all of the challenges of this issue, but we get none of benefits.”
“We are missing out on new, significant tax revenue, tax dollars that we could put to work in our state,” she said. “We are missing out on new jobs, and young people are moving elsewhere for the opportunities in this industry.”
Under the proposal, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division would regulate the cannabis program.
The legislature would be charged with deciding the general tax and a “supplemental” tax for adult-use marijuana products. The general tax could not exceed 20 percent, with revenue going to the state fund. The supplemental tax couldn’t be more than two percent, and that revenue would go to municipalities where the sales occurred.
In order to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot, the General Assembly will need to pass the proposal twice during two separate sessions, meaning the soonest voters will get to weigh in would be during the November 2024 election. It also means that the Republican-controlled legislature will need to get on board with the idea of a referendum on the issue.
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The Democrats’ plan is to pass the measure during the 100-day session that starts this month and then again in 2023.
GOP legislative leaders and the governor have maintained staunch opposition to reform efforts in the past, which advocates say is partly the reason that even Iowa’s medical cannabis program is especially limited compared to other states.
“Iowa’s outdated, old-school drug policies are failing Iowans in rural parts of the state and urban areas as well. It’s time to move forward with better drug policies that uplift Iowans instead of criminalizing them,” Petersen said in a press release. “Republicans have said time after time during Constitutional Amendment debates that they trust the voters to decide. We believe it is time to trust Iowa voters. Let’s give Iowans the freedom to vote on this issue. I encourage Iowans to contact their legislators in the coming days to urge them to push for the debate and passage of this Constitutional Amendment in the upcoming session.”
Bolkcom mentioned to Marijuana Moment in an earlier interview that some GOP members are pushing to enact constitutional amendments that would put issues related to gun control and reproductive rights on the ballot.
“So as we thought about how to make progress on marijuana regulation, we thought maybe there would be some interest in putting this before voters,” the senator said. “You don’t need to decide. You can let the voters decide if you can’t.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun (R) told the Quad-City Times that he has “no intention” of moving any cannabis legalization legislation through his panel.
“Gimmicks like a constitutional amendment on recreational marijuana do a better job of illustrating the lack of ideas Senate Democrats have to solve the problems of Iowans than any response I have,” he said.
A bill to decriminalize cannabis possession did clear an Iowa Senate subcommittee early last year, but it hasn’t advanced since March. Another Senate panel separately approved a bill to reduce medical cannabis patient registration costs in February.
Meanwhile, activists in the state have been seeking a federal exemption for its medical marijuana program—imploring regulators to reach out to federal agencies with the request as required under legislation enacted last year.
In August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assured Iowa officials that academic institutions in the state aren’t at risk of losing agency grants and contracts even if they permit patients to use medical marijuana on their properties in compliance with state law.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected a request for such an exemption last year.
Read the text of the Iowa marijuana legalization resolution below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.