Brad Zaun

A bill to ease the penalty for first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana has cleared a Republican-led subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.

Being caught with an amount of pot that’s five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor if the bill becomes law. Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale says that kind of a youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under current law.

“This charge follows these younger people or these adults that make these decisions which ruins, I think, their opportunities with jobs and employment,” Zaun says.

The bill cleared a three-member senate subcommittee Thursday, then it faces review in a full Senate committee. A similar bill cleared the Iowa Senate three years ago when Democrats held a majority of seats. Republicans now occupy 29 of the 50 seats in the state senate and Zaun is aware of the opposition from other Republicans.

“I know this is an uphill climb,” Zaun says.

A recent analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union found that while the same percentages of whites and blacks use marijuana, black Iowans are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.