City officials consider marijuana policing change


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Marijuana — a smoking topic across the nation — is making its way to Iowa City as officials consider relaxing arrest policies.

“It’s clearly an issue nationwide,” said Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton. “I think we definitely should be looking into it.”

The issue was brought before the council after it received correspondence urging the councilors to consider changing marijuana-policing policies because of the racial disparity in marijuana arrests.

“The evidence is clear that African Americans are arrested more frequently for possession of marijuana,” Throgmorton said. “The main thing I think we need to at least look into carefully is whether there would be benefits associated with instructing the police not to arrest people merely for possession of marijuana or smoking marijuana.”

Though the council can’t directly control the police, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said the council could indirectly influence the department through ther chain of command. The council can make recommendations to the city manager, who has control over the police chief.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said he agrees that the marijuana issue extends beyond Iowa City, and he will accept the any decision the council makes.

“I think the council is looking at other global issues such as, is the country going to make [marijuana] legal some day,” he said. “Where they decide to go with that is their choice.”

Hargadine said he hasn’t seen a significant increase in marijuana-possession arrests in past years. In 2011, there were 363 arrests. There were 237 in 2012 and 272 in 2013.

Throgmorton said the controversy surrounding potential construction of a new jail in Johnson County could influence the decision of the council. Changing law-enforcement policy could reduce the number of arrests and in turn, reduce overcrowding in the current jail, he said.

Hargadine said a change in Iowa City police policies may not have much of an effect on lowering the number of marijuana arrests in the city, because it wouldn’t have an effect on other law-enforcement agencies such as the University of Iowa police.

“I think there’s still a potential of marijuana arrests in Iowa City,” he said. “They could restrict what Iowa City PD does, but there’s other law enforcement operating in the city limits [which] would be exempt from Iowa City’s policies.”

Councilor Susan Mims said she doesn’t think the council should really be considering a policy change yet, and more information would be needed first.

“I’m very ambivalent about it at the moment and would like to hear more of the pros and cons,” she said. “I really need more information before I’m comfortable [making a decision].”

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