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Narcisse promotes criminal justice reform

BY CASSIDY RILEY | SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Many say money cannot buy intangible commodities — but one gubernatorial candidate says that in Iowa, it can buy you justice.

Jonathan Narcisse, an independent candidate for governor, gave a speech Tuesday night to an audience of one community member in a room at the Coralville Public Library in which he contended that the more money a person is prepared to spend on a lawyer, the more lenient their sentencing will be in Iowa courts — particularly as they relate to drug charges.

He also said some county attorneys are purposefully not seeking harsher sentences on rich criminals.

“It’s not just race anymore but the economic status of those involved in the criminal-justice system makes a profound difference,” he said. 

Narcisse cited several examples, including a case in which David England, a former president of Des Moines Area Community College, was sentenced to two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service for possessing enough marijuana to warrant a five-year prison sentence.

A key component of Narcisse’s campaign is the decriminalization of marijuana — which he said would negate such charges and turn the marijuana industry into a source revenue for the state through selling growing permits and selling the product in state-owned stores.

Such revenue, he said, could be used to create jobs revitalizing the state’s infrastructure, which in turn would continue to reduce crime.

“Nothing diffuses the anger and frustrations of these young men who have idle hands like making $25 to $30 an hour,” he said.

Nicholas Dreeszen of West Des Moines was the only community member at the event. He said Narcisse has the right ideas for Iowa and he is leaning toward supporting him in the election.

“He’s the one who speaks the truest message,” he said. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law to allow for the purchase of cannabis oil extract for medical purposes, but he is skeptical about further legalization.

“The governor takes a balanced approach and believes we should study other states that have enacted laws, see how those laws are working, and root out any unintended consequences prior to looking at any changes in Iowa,” Tommy Schultz, the communications director for Branstad’s campaign, wrote in an email.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he agrees there is an economic disparity in Iowa’s criminal-justice system.

“I’ve talked about this for years,” he said. “But I want to go a step further. Beside income disparity, there are cultural and racial disparities.”

On the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana, he took a similar stance as Branstad.

“One of the nice things about federalism — our form of government —  is states are now becoming laboratories of democracy, and we have the ability to take a look at other states and see how they’re doing.” 

Narcisse also spent considerable time talking about the work he is doing to establish the Iowa Party, which would become an officially recognized party if he earns 2 percent of the vote in the November election.

He said the party’s strategy to make a difference in the state is to win county and school-board elections and to run candidates in primaries as Republicans and Democrats against incumbents in the Legislature. Then, he said, they can create a minority in the Legislature with the power sway votes on legislation.

“The beauty of the Iowa Party is we don’t need numbers,” he said.


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