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Iowa Senate Democrats propose constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana

marijuana plants
Katarina Sostaric
IPR file
Democrats in the Iowa Senate are proposing a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate are proposing a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana, and they released the text of the amendment Wednesday.

It would make the possession, growth, consumption and sale of cannabis legal for Iowans age 21 and older, and recreational marijuana would be regulated by the state alcoholic beverages division. The state could tax cannabis products at a maximum rate of 20 percent, and local governments could tax them at a maximum rate of 2 percent.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowa is losing jobs and revenue to states that legalized marijuana.

“Iowans want those jobs and economic development from regulating marijuana like alcohol, especially jobs that it will bring to rural Iowa,” Bolkcom said. “We are proposing this constitutional amendment for voters to decide because Republicans have repeatedly refused to engage in any meaningful debate about marijuana reform.”

If the Iowa Legislature approves the language twice, the proposed amendment will go on the ballot for Iowa voters to decide. But top Republicans who control the statehouse said Tuesday they’re not planning to advance it.

And last month, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said he’s not expecting any changes to marijuana policy this year.

“I don’t envision any changes happening…either going to recreational or changing the medical,” Whitver said. “But, you know, if there’s people that have bills or ideas, we’re certainly open to changes to the medical marijuana program. At this point, I don’t see us moving to a recreational state.”

Iowa has a medical marijuana program that puts strict limits on how much THC patients can access. And state law says there can’t be more than five dispensaries in Iowa.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has opposed efforts to expand that program, would not be involved in the constitutional amendment process.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, pointed to aDes Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Pollfrom last spring that found more than half of Iowa adults favored legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

“We believe in Iowans and giving them the freedom to vote on moving our state forward with safer drug policies,” Petersen said. “We’ve chosen to move forward with a constitutional amendment that takes the conversation to the people of Iowa.”

Iowa’s legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 10.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter