This week, in a bipartisan vote, an Iowa Senate panel has advanced a bill that lessens penalties for first-time, small-scale cannabis possession.

Senate Bill 1226 was passed on Wednesday by the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would reduce the crime of possessing five grams or less of marijuana to a simple misdemeanor from a serious misdemeanor.

Currently anyone who is convicted of the above would be facing up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The new bill would reduce the maximum jail sentence to just 30 days and the maximum fine to $855.

According to Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who chairs the committee, young Iowans convicted under the current law end up paying a high price long-term.

“There (are) so many younger people that this would eliminate a scholarship, housing opportunities and job opportunities,” Zaun said.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said it does not go nearly far enough and has said,”We need to do more on this,” Bolkcom said. “Marijuana prohibition is failing across the country because it’s destroyed way too many Americans’ lives and this is a very, very modest change to our marijuana laws.”

An ACLU study had found that Iowa has one of the worst racial disparities for marijuana arrests in the nation.

“A Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely to be arrested than a white person for marijuana possession, even though both groups use marijuana at about the same rate,” the ACLU has said.

“I understand your feelings and respect those, but it is, I think, a fairly large step forward,” said Zaun. “It’s not going as far as you want, Sen. Bolkcom, but I do believe it will affect a lot of people.”

The bill will still need to pass the House before going to Gov. Reynolds’ desk.

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