Iowa Bill Hopes to Lower Charges for Possession of Marijuana

Tess Hemmila—Staff Writer

A bill attempting to reduce penalties for those found in possession of marijuana is being presented to Iowa lawmakers this session.  According to State Sen. Brad Zaun (R), who drafted the bill, the goal of this proposition is to make sure that rare or first time use of marijuana does not affect future school and career opportunities.

This move is unsurprising, considering a majority of states have now legalized the use of marijuana to varying extents. Most states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal use. The drug can have many positive effects on the body and is most commonly prescribed for managing pain—specifically nerve pain—and nausea, often caused by cancer treatments. Marijuana has also been legalized for recreational use in nine states and the District of Columbia.

“It’s a good thing that the states are taking the lead like this because it is not, and never should be, a federal responsibility,” said Jeff Taylor, a political science professor.

The current law in Iowa classifies the first possession offense as a serious misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration for up to six months and a fine up to $1,000. The bill proposes that the punishment for first time possession of less than five grams be lowered to a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $652.

While there is not an exact estimate, the lowered penalties would save the state a large sum of money that would have been spent on the incarceration of those charged with marijuana possession. In the 2016 fiscal year, Iowa had 3,399 convictions for first offense of marijuana possession, according to the Des Moines Register.

Dordt College reported a total of three arrests for drug law violations during the school years of 2014-2016. There were no reported disciplinary actions for drug abuse violations in those years.

According to Dr. Tony Jelsma, a Dordt biology professor, the heavy use of marijuana can have negative health effects on the brain. The Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in marijuana mimics the brain chemical anandamide which affects brain areas associated with pleasure and memory. THC can alter the functioning of the brain and inhibit parts of the brain that shift focus or create new memories.

The use of marijuana, as with any drug, can also lead to addiction. Addiction to marijuana is unique because it involves building a tolerance, which causes users to need more product to get the desired effect, and has withdrawal symptoms. However, marijuana users do not exhibit the same psychological addiction found in users of heavy drugs.

Craig Stiemsma, a Dordt health and human performance professor, there can be serious consequences for long term users.

“Over time, there can be amotivational symptoms. It can be detrimental to their [marijuana users’] overall lives,” Stiemsma said.

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