Republican Lawmaker: Ease Marijuana Penalties

Feb 11, 2015

A bipartisan senate committee voted overwhelmingly to ease the penalties for some cases of first-time marijuana possession.  

The bill covers possession of less than 5 grams, what backers call scrapings out of pot pipes.  

The bill would make the offense a simple not a serious misdemeanor.    That allows a first-time offender to avoid jail and instead see a judge who would determine the fine.

State Center Democrat, Steve Sodders, says unlike in the past, every Republican on the committee is on board.

“I think there's a change,” Sodders says.   “You saw that.”  

Ankeny Republican Jack Whitver agrees more lawmakers are willing to make what he calls common sense sentencing reforms:.

“That would help control some of the costs in the system,” Whitver says.

Current penalties are 6 months in jail and a thousand dollar fine. 

“500  offenders last year ended up in parole,” Whitver says.  

Under the bill is still what’s called an enhanceable offense, meaning tougher penalties at the next arrest.

The  Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee vote was 13 to 1.  

Senator Sodders, a Marshall County deputy sheriff, has made many arrests for small amounts of marijuana.

“In my experience a lot of these are basically scrapings out of pot pipes,” Sodders says. 

Lawmakers say Chief Justice Mark  Cady’s remarks in his Condition of the Judiciary address had an effect.   Cady cites disproportionate arrests of African Americans on marijuana charges.