Iowa Democrats have introduced a bill in the Iowa Legislature to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. The Republican majority says they are not interested in doing this.
Republicans used to be the party of individual liberty. Today, they seem to be the party of religious morality enforcement, wanting to control the peaceful, voluntary activities of adults.
No one is opposed to reasonable regulations to protect the public, such as prohibiting driving while intoxicated and licensing sellers in order to prevent sales to minors and to prevent the sale of adulterated products.
As we saw in the case of alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s, prohibition creates violence and corruption. The same is true in the case of drug prohibition today. To the extent that the possession and sale of drugs are decriminalized, related violence and corruption will be reduced. Yes, just as with alcohol, some people will be negatively affected by abuse and addiction. But the vast majority of people will be responsible, and their peaceful, voluntary activities should not be criminalized.
It is time for Republicans to help create responsible legislation to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana in Iowa.
Here is a letter to the editor of The Des Moines Register that they published today, 7/14/2022:
It appears clear that most of the recent opioid deaths are the result of people buying drugs on the street and not knowing either the strength or even the actual drug that is in what they think they are buying. If we really want to end opioid deaths, we need to end drug prohibition and make drugs of known strength and purity available through legal channels.
It should still be a crime to drive a vehicle while intoxicated or to sell drugs to children. But it should not be a crime for people to put drugs into their own bodies. People who are addicted should be treated under a medical model, not a criminal model.
It has been widely reported that more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the 12 months ended April 30, 2021, a record high. A large and increasing portion of overdose deaths is attributable to illicitly obtained drugs, especially fentanyl. Many addicts have no choice but to buy their drugs on the black market, so they can’t be assured of the strength or purity of the drug, or what other drugs might have been added to what they think they are buying. As a result, many overdose deaths are accidental.
Imagine if we treated drug addiction using a medical model rather than a criminal model? If addictive drugs could be purchased legally and were regulated as to strength and purity, many overdose deaths would be avoided. Additionally, people who become addicted might be more likely to ask for help to kick the habit if they weren’t afraid of getting arrested and put in jail. Finally, much of the crime and violence associated with the illegal drug trade would go away if our policy of prohibition were ended.
As I’ve written before, if a new pharmacy opens in your neighborhood, the existing pharmacies don’t start a shooting war to protect their turf. And if someone breaks into or otherwise trys to rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy calls the police. It is the prohibition that causes most of the violence.
Under a legal drug regime, it would still be illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, and children would be prohibited from buying drugs. But a person who minds their own business would not be a criminal for using drugs in a peaceful manner.
Hopefully, the Des Moines City Council and the Des Moines Police Department will follow the recommendation of the marijuana enforcement task force that was formed earlier this year as part of an anti-racial profiling ordinance.” (See link to Register reports below.)
Included among the list of recommendations are passing ordinances that make enforcement of the possession of marijuana for personal use the lowest enforcement priority for the police, and if allowed by state law, to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for personal use.
It appears clear that our marijuana prohibition laws are enforced unfairly against black folks, In every case, a conviction dramatically damages a person’s future prospects for work, housing, education, and more. All because of our prohibition laws criminalize peaceful activities that do not infringe on the rights of any other person.
Our Iowa state legislators need to get a clue from other states and at least decriminalize the peaceful use of marijuana. It will not only reduce systemic racism, but it is the morally right thing to do.
I agree with William Cotton’s essay in The Des Moines Register that we must make changes to eliminate systemic racism. (See link below to his essay in the Register.) Here are two specific actions we should take: 1. Eliminate stops by police of vehicles with equipment violations such as broken lights. If appropriate, tickets can be issued by mail against the owner of the vehicle based on videos or photos. This will help eliminate pre-textual stops. 2. Repeal or stop enforcement of laws against the possession of marijuana. It has been clearly established that marijuana possession laws are enforced unequally between black and white people. We have made great progress over time in reducing government-supported racism in our country, but we must continue to eliminate it everywhere we find it.
Under our current regime of drug prohibition in the U.S., it is true that American drug users support the violent drug cartels in Mexico. If we ended the drug wars, and instead legalized and regulated peaceful drug use, and treated addiction under a medical model, the violence associated with the illicit drug trade would mostly go away. When CVS opens a drug store across the street from Walgreens, they don’t get into a gun battle. When a drug store is robbed, they call the police instead of sending out a gang to get revenge. It is the government policy of prohibition that causes the violence associated with the illicit drug trade. Our drug wars will be endless until prohibition is ended.
It was like a breath of fresh air to read in The Des Moines Register that our Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, used logic in concluding that banning vaping by adults in Iowa would be a mistake. (See link to Register article below.) It does appear clear that almost all of recently rreported deaths and severe illnesses were the result of vaping black market products that contain THC, not nicotine.
While it may be true that no amount of vaped nicotine has been proven safe, we do know that vaping popular legal nicotine products has been going on for years without the type of health problems that have been reported recently. We also know that nicotine vape products do not contain the tars and other substances in cigarettes that are known to cause cancer.
It’s reasonable to think that vaping nicotine is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and that going from smoking cigarettes to vaping can be a good step towards quiting a nicotine habit altogether. But, prohibition of vaping would only worsen the health problems, just like with opioids, where people who purchase their drugs on the street have no idea of the strength or purity of the products they are buying.
Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax. As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse. She was convicted and served time in prison. She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids. But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest! She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine. Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers. In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing. But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model. Education works better than punishment. One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition. State legislatiors should take that up next session.
The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers. (See link to Register article below.) Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis. There is no cost to the counties. If successful, the “Lawyers will be awarded a portion of the settlement, …” (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)
What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse. When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want. If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids. That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids. (See CDC reference below.) A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs. In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.
If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented. That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade. If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem. But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.
As The Des Moines Register reported on 10/13/2016, “Black Iowans are seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Iowans…” (See link below.) Drug possession. A crime without a victim. Arrests that create a criminal record that seriously negatively affects a person’s ability to get a job.
Even if blacks do possess illegal drugs at a rate seven times more than whites, which I very much doubt, treating possession of any drug as a crime is clearly unfair, if not racist. Why don’t people get arrested for “possession” if they are caught with a six pack of beer? Why aren’t people be arrested and charged with “intent to deliver” if they are caught with more than a case of beer? Why aren’t people charged with a more serious crime if they are caught with high alcohol content distilled spirits, which are surely more dangerous?
We need to end the immoral and impractical drug wars. The correct and reasonable thing to do is to legalize and regulate the manufacture, sale and use of all drugs, just like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Just like with alcohol, fair regulations would include protecting our children, and prohibiting driving vehicles while intoxicated. In any case, we need to end prohibition.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/10/12/iowa-ranks-2nd-worst-racial-disparities-drug-arrests/91958452/