Editorial: A chance for reform in marijuana laws

Editorial: A chance for reform in marijuana laws

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

A new legislative year brings with it a chance to rethink controversial issues from the past. This sentiment resonated on Sunday when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws met for the first time in Iowa City in the Iowa City Public Library. NORML describes its mission “is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults and to serve as an advocate for consumers to ensure they have access to high-quality marijuana that is safe, convenient, and affordable.”

NORML has two main goals this year; make sure that passage is cleared in the Iowa Legislature for two bills.

One of the bills that NORML pushes for would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug instead of a Schedule 1. Being classified as a Schedule 1 means that the drug “has high potential for abuse” and “has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.” It is important to note that morphine and cocaine are Schedule 2 drugs because they are considered to have some medical value.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has acknowledged that cannabis may be a treatment option for some children. Considering that many experts now agree that marijuana does have medicinal benefits, the current classification of cannabis is clearly outdated. In fact, 23 states have approved marijuana for medicinal use.

The other bill on NORML’s agenda is one that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The vision is for a more productive allocation of law-enforcement resources.

The current law states that a first marijuana-possession offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both. It’s considered a serious misdemeanor. The new bill would lower the punitive punishments. If people possess five or fewer grams, they would only be liable for 30 days in jail, a fine from $65 to $625, or both. It would also be classified as a simple misdemeanor. Instead of arresting and handling people with small amounts of marijuana, law enforcement would be able to focus on more serious offenses.

Polling shows that Iowans agree with NORML’s mission regarding medical marijuana. A Quinnipiac University survey in March 2014 showed that 81 percent of registered Iowa voters support legalizing medical marijuana, which would be prescribed by a doctor.

It’s important to note that Iowa has slowly made some progress on this issue. Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law in May 2014 that decriminalizes possession of a certain extract of marijuana for people with severe epilepsy. The extract is called cannabis oil and is made in a way that makes it very difficult to experience any “high.” However, the program simply decriminalizes the action and doesn’t provide any legal ways to obtain the extract. In essence, the program is largely unfinished and represents a baby step in the right direction.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board applauds NORML for meeting in Iowa City and hopes more groups such as this can continue to influence Iowa to get these bills passed. When nearly half the states have agreed to regulate medical marijuana, Iowa’s hesitance to move forward means it risks being left behind. Iowa must change course on this issue; the current laws are outdated, and the people support a change.