Des Moines Register: 'It's Time for Iowa to Legalize Marijuana'

NORML’s "Legalize It" billboard on Rt. 6 in Des Moines, Iowa (image via KCRG)

I started a NORML chapter at the University of Iowa in 1983. Back then, most people I encountered thought marijuana legalization was a pipe dream. As far as they were concerned it would be a cold day in hell before the state of Iowa ever legalized pot.

Well, they’ve not yet issued a frost warning but my sources in hell report temperatures have begun to drop rapidly: On September 26, the state’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, published an editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The 675-word editorial reads in part:

“Iowa, or at least its policymakers, has been resolutely reticent to join the bandwagon of states and countries permitting medical and then recreational marijuana use.

“Relative to even other states where recreational use remains illegal, our medical cannabidiol program can be used only in narrow circumstances, and participation requires a lot of paperwork. Proposals to change state law or change local priorities die quick deaths…

“It’s time to act. We’ve long known about injustices in the practice of enforcing marijuana laws. And now we've seen the manageable experiences of more aggressive jurisdictions. 

Des Moines Register: “Iowa can be more like Colorado, or Illinois, and the sky will not fall.”

“Iowa should swiftly permit wider medicinal and recreational use - with reasonable restrictions such as barring purchase and use by minors.

“Public opinion has moved quickly, here and nationally. Washington and Colorado made the first moves in 2012. In 2014, 70% of Iowans opposed legal recreational use. Less than a decade later, nearly 20 states have some legal pot, and a majority of Iowans are OK with it, too.

“Iowans and their local and state elected officials should pressure Congress to relax federal law on marijuana. But just as other states have shown, there's plenty Iowa can do on its own to make marijuana laws fairer and more sensible.

“The criminal justice system disproportionately punishes Black Iowans more than others for marijuana. This has been established over and over…

“Iowa can be more like Colorado, or Illinois, and the sky will not fall.”

Iowa has a limited medical use program and recreational consumers currently face jail time and fines if arrested. 

RELATED: Connecticut Was the Most Recent and 19th State to Legalize Cannabis

I reached out to the offices of Iowa’s two U.S. Senators, Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley, for comment. Their offices were sadly unable to reply before deadline. (Chuck was first elected to the Senate in 1980, three weeks before my 18th birthday. To be really honest, I called to rub his nose in it.)

Regarding the editorial, Iowa State University NORML rep Joshua Montgomery, based in Ames, sent a statement to CelebStoner:

"The Des Moines Register editorial is a breath of sensibility for cannabis law reform in a stagnant Iowan political climate. We’re excited to see the Register lay out most of the best arguments in favor of Iowa marijuana legalization… The editorial speaks loudly and clearly for the majority of Iowans regarding necessary Iowa marijuana law reform.”

NORML ISU is running a legislative letter-writing campaign to collect signatures from Iowa residents who support legalization that will be presented to all Iowa state legislators at the capitol in Des Moines. They currently have more than 5,000 signatures.

In August, the group promoted the "Legalize It" letter campaign with a billboard on Rt. 6 in Des Moines.


Become a Patron!


Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Writer and KBOO radio host based in Portland, Ore. He's also editor of