Marijuana on the rise in Iowa


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Marijuana use is marking its 20-year state high, and Iowa has noticed an increase in marijuana-related crimes over the past few years, a recent state drug report found.

However, officials say they are optimistic about improvement in Iowa after the report, although the ranking attracts more attention to the issue of legalization.

“That is a clear indication that it is a serious drug, and it should be treated as such,” said Steve Lukan, the director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. “With a lot of the dialogue with legalization, I hope people understand that it is a serious drug, and it has serious consequences.”

According to the 2014 Iowa Drug Control Strategy, 26.7 percent of people receiving treatment for substance abuse in 2012 named marijuana their primary drug of choice, following alcohol, and the number of marijuana plants seized in the state increased to 7,762 this year as compared with 9,824 in the last three years combined.

Ron Berg, CEO of MECCA, the Mid-Eastern Council on Chemical Abuse, cited early introduction to drugs as one effect of the high numbers of marijuana use across the state.

“The earlier somebody becomes involved in drugs and alcohol, the greater the chances they will develop issues later in life,” he said.  “Introducing drugs at an age where the brain is not fully developed is dangerous.”

Lukan said he thinks these changes start in the home and also affect the decrease in the number of youth-related drug cases in Iowa.

“It’s about parents interacting with their kids, clarifying their values, and talking about staying away from drugs,” he said. “Certainly if we can keep young people drug-free, we can have some really big impacts later on.”

In terms of legalization of marijuana, Lukan said he is concerned with the implications this will have on the youth population.

“We want to try to keep young people away from marijuana and drug free, and I think the states have really moved down this path that is sending a dangerous message,” he said.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said he has seen firsthand the “detrimental” effects these kinds of drugs have on children and families, and he thinks the increase in Iowa’s numbers reflects a dangerous and growing national trend.

“As other states decide to liberalize their marijuana laws … an increasing segment of our society is going to decide that such behavior is acceptable,” he said.

Although he does not see it happening in Iowa anytime soon, Baltimore said he thinks legalization would ultimately cause “a long, torturous demise of [the] culture” with no positive effects.

He said he thinks many in the Legislature hide behind the medical benefits of marijuana.

“Many of them would be in favor of recreational use but many of them won’t come out and say it unless directly asked,” he said.

For Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, legalizing marijuana to provide relief to Iowan’s who are suffering from chronic illnesses is his sole focus.

“There’s plenty of illegal use now and … there’s a way to develop a program with strong controls that address the concern that marijuana will get in the wrong hands,” he said. “[We can] erase that huge legal risk people take.”

DI reporter Megan Sanchez contributed to this story.

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