The top law man in Iowa’s largest college town favors tickets rather than a trip to jail for folks caught with a few puffs of pot. Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek says he’d like to see someone caught with a little bit of marijuana treated the same as someone who’s pulled over for running a stop sign. “I would like to see possession of marijuana done by increments,” Pulkrabek says. “I think that small increments of possession of marijuana should be treated as a simple misdemeanor where the officer on the street can cite and release right there and not have to bring them to jail.”
Pulkrabek says in a university town like Iowa City, his staff spends a lot of time booking people who’re caught with just a small amount of marijuana. Pulkrabek says over seven-hundred people were arrested in Johnson County last year for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Pulkrabek would reserve the harshest punishments for those caught with loads of pot. “The guy that’s carrying 50 bales of marijuana running down Interstate-80…that’s a different animal,” the sheriff says.
Pulkrabek would also like to see state law changed so he can send a drunk or high person to a locked-down “detox center” to dry out rather than charging them with public intoxication and putting them into the overcrowded county jail. “We have a large number of young people (who) come to school and they may get charged with public intoxication and so eventually when they leave town, they not only leave town with, hopefully, a degree, but they unfortunately leave town with a criminal record as well,” he says.
Pulkrabek, who served as a deputy in Johnson County for over 20 years before being elected sheriff last year, says substance abuse, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, is an enormous problem for law enforcement in college towns. But Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, says the legislature will not reduce the penalties for having just a joint or a small bag of pot. “I don’t think we can send a message to the drug user or abuser that we should decrease the penalties for illegal use,” Baudler says.
Baudler, a retired state trooper, is unmoved by the sheriff’s argument that the Johnson County Jail is over-run by drunks and small-time pot users. “We could simplify their job a lot quicker if we just didn’t have football games, home football games there where we arrest hundreds of drunks over the weekend. We could simplify law enforcement’s job if we didn’t have rock concerts,” Baudler says. “We could do a lot of things to simplify the job but would public safety be served? I don’t think so.”
Baudler says merely ticketing small-time marijuana users would send the wrong message. Baudler says it sends the message that if you’re a little crook, that’s o-k, it’s only when you’re a big crook that the state will crack down.