Despite increasing support, changes in marijuana laws are a "long ways off" in Iowa

BY ERIC MOORE | OCTOBER 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Lawmakers say change is still "a ways off" in Iowa regarding loosening marijuana regulations, despite a rise in national support for its legalization.

A Gallup Poll released Monday showed, for the first time, Americans who support the legalization of marijuana outnumber those who don't.

But Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowans would need to provide more support for change before legislators will address it.

"Legislators are still nervous about seeming weak in the war on drugs," said Bolkcom, who introduced medical-marijuana legislation in the last legislative session that failed to advance out of committee.

"If they hear from their constituents that this an important issue to them … if enough people talk about it with their legislators, we'll see more action."

Though marijuana dispensaries operate in several states, they are in violation of federal law. While local and state police in such states as California and Colorado don't go after pot users, federal agents still go after growers in those places, putting federal statute at odds with state laws.

Some cities, too, have instructed their police forces not to enforce marijuana laws, but Iowa City isn't likely to join those ranks.


Iowa City City Clerk Marian Karr said marijuana is criminal in Iowa by state law rather than city law, so legalization would have to begin at the state level before Iowa City could make any changes. Similarly, Councilor Terry Dickens iterated local change in reference to marijuana decriminalization is not something the council has discussed, and it is unlikely the issue will be discussed on a municipal level.

And though some on the University of Iowa campus are not surprised by the results of the poll, President of Iowa Students for Sensible Drug Policy Viktor Crnkovic said the 50 percent in favor of legalization was "encouraging."

"I think it really just comes down to people seeing firsthand that a lot of what they've heard about a drug war and drugs in general are simply myths," he said. "States have started medicinal marijuana programs, and people have seen that it's not bringing about some sort of hell on earth."

Though Crnkovic said his organization works more in the Iowa City community — as opposed to lobbying at the state and national levels — he said the group hopes to work with local law enforcement on substance policies that "will benefit everyone."

"The government works for the people, and I think a lot of young people in particular lose sight of that," Crnkovic said. "Although I disagree with a lot of what they do, law enforcement is not our enemy."

National organizations also anticipated the increase in support of legalization.

Morgan Fox, the communications manager for pro-legalization lobbyist organization

MarijuanaPolicyProject.org, said the increase in support was something his organization hopes to see continue "at an even quicker rate."

"More and more people are seeing that we're spending an insane amount of money arresting people for something that's less damaging than alcohol," Morgan said. "Given our current economic situation and that we have so many other issues to worry about, people are looking at this and saying, 'There's no point in being concerned about this.' "

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