By Julia Shanahan
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
The proposal, introduced April 20, would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances, which currently categorizes it as being as dangerous as heroin. It would also remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also proposed a move to deschedule hemp, hoping to reintroduce the crop to the agricultural sector.
While work is being done at the federal level to slowly begin the legalization of marijuana, Iowa still has some of the strictest laws and limitations in the U.S. when it comes to marijuana.
Marijuana in Iowa
In 2014, Iowa legalized the use of cannabidiol, which is used in the state sparingly for medical purposes, most often by patients who suffer from epilepsy. Marijuana sale and possession are illegal in the state, and in some cases can be considered felonies with a consequence of up to 50 years in prison.
Currently, a first-offense misdemeanor charge for any amount can lead to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison. However, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, sponsored Senate File 432, which would minimize charges for a person’s first offense.
Tess Seger, the communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that Schumer’s proposal is in line with the party’s platform.
“When we get down to brass tacks, this initiative and ones like it are about creating a fair and equal justice system that preserves the dignity of every American,” Seger wrote. “That’s something that everyone should be fighting for, regardless of party.”
Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, notes that his organization advocates for responsible and legal marijuana use among adults. It has chapters across the country.
Strekal said that even if Schumer’s bill were passed, the state could still send people to jail, because state officials don’t necessarily need to carry out federal enforcement. He compared Schumer’s bill to alcohol, noting that alcohol is not federally legalized but federally decriminalized.
Alcohol laws and logistics are reserved for the states, he said, and substance control works similarly to how marijuana is controlled. States reserve the right to control marijuana laws under the 10th Amendment, he said.
He said Schumer’s bill would remove the talking point for state legislatures and allow for lesser charges at the federal level.
“State legislatures have stubbornly not moved forward to pass any substantive reforms,” Strekal said.
Republicans face a divide
Jesse Dougherty, the communications director for the Iowa Republican Party, wrote in an email to the DI that the issue is not addressed in the GOP platform. Dougherty contended that the Republican Party is a big-tent party with a wide array of opinions on topics.
The difference of opinion is true for the University of Iowa College Republicans. Kyle Apple, the president of UI College Republicans, said his organization has members who oppose and member who favor Schumer’s proposal.
Apple said the Iowa Republican Party does favor rescheduling marijuana for a wide array of medical uses, which he is personally favors. The issue is bipartisan in the sense that everyone disagrees, he said.
“If this law at the federal level does pass, giving states more freedom to set these laws, I’m not sure what that would actually look like,” he said.