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Sen. Joe Bolkcom

Sen. Joe Bolkcom

DES MOINES -- The production, sale and recreational use of marijuana would be legal in Iowa under proposed legislation that even its author says has little chance of becoming law.

Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, on Monday announced his plan to introduce legislation to end the prohibition of marijuana in Iowa.

Bolkcom said legalizing recreational marijuana likely remains a pipe dream so long as Republicans control the Statehouse and the governor's mansion. Remarks from GOP legislators seemed to confirm as much.

But Bolkcom said he wanted to spark the conversation because he feels support is increasing in the Midwest. Michigan voters in November voted to make recreational marijuana legal, and state leaders in Minnesota and Illinois are discussing the possibility.

Nationally, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

“I think legal marijuana is coming to the Midwest,” Bolkcom said. “It’s time for us in Iowa to begin to have a serious discussion about how we might tackle that or move away from prohibition.”

Bolkcom said prohibition is bad policy because it is expensive to arrest, prosecute and jail people who sell or use marijuana, and because black Iowans are disproportionately jailed for marijuana use.

He said legalizing marijuana would create jobs growing and selling the product, jobs Iowa stands to lose to neighboring states that act sooner.

“Iowa should stop wasting millions of dollars and destroying the lives of our citizens,” Bolkcom said. “We should instead welcome the new businesses, jobs and economic opportunity that Iowa can gain by regulating marijuana like alcohol.”

Bolkcom said his proposal will recommend Iowans be 21 years or older to legally purchase marijuana, and the state’s alcoholic beverages division would regulate the industry. He said marijuana would be taxed, and revenue would help fund prevention and anti-addiction programs.

That was not enough to sway Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, a key Senate committee leader.

“I am not open-minded,” Zaun said. “If that bill comes to the judiciary committee (that Zaun chairs), it won’t go anywhere.”

Zaun has supported expanding Iowa’s medical cannabis program, which allows Iowans to use an oil derived from the marijuana plant for medical uses if they have a physician’s recommendation. But Monday he made clear his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana.

“Will it come someday? Yeah, probably. But not at this time while I’m the judiciary (committee) chair,” Zaun said.

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State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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