A three-member panel in the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to ease penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, says if the bill becomes law, people caught with less than five grams of marijuana would be charged with a simple misdemeanor and spend no more than 30 days in jail.
“It’s your first time, you made a mistake, to not to ruin your life in regards to going down the road for employment,” Zaun says.
Studies show roughly the same percentages of whites and African Americans in Iowa smoke marijuana, but African Americans arrested for marijuana possession are likely to do more time in prison than whites who’re caught with pot. Zaun is optimistic about the bill’s chances.
“I wouldn’t have brought this bill forward if I didn’t think that we could make it become law,” Zaun says.
Two years ago, the same bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support when Democrats held a majority of senate seats, but it was never considered in the Republican-controlled House. The bill cleared a senate subcommittee Tuesday, but it must pass the Senate Judiciary Committee by this Friday or it cannot be considered again until 2018.
This Friday is the legislature’s deadline for initial committee action on policy bills. Bills that deal with taxes or spending are eligible for debate at any time.
(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)