It is time to decriminalize marijuana in Iowa. Nebraska has. Minnesota has. So have Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Colorado, Mississippi, North Carolina and Nevada. In any of those states, a person in possession of marijuana for purely recreational purposes can not be sent to jail or prison. They can only receive a fine. Decriminalization doesn’t mean its legal, just like speeding isn’t legal. It just means that we shouldn’t be sending a person to jail or prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

There are many more states that allow possession of marijuana when prescribed by a doctor. Many medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, have taken the view that marijuana likely has medicinal properties and could be removed as a scheduled controlled substance. Recently, the federal government ordered its drug agents to not enforce the federal prohibition on possession for those who have a valid prescription from their doctor.

This year, a law allowing a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana to her patients was proposed in the Iowa legislature. Such a law is a separate issue from decriminalization, but it is the right thing to do. Research has shown that patients suffering from a wide array of illnesses benefit from medical marijuana. For example, persons suffering from neuropathic pain, nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, movement disorders, dementia and AIDS benefit from marijuana. Additional research is showing that marijuana may also prevent certain types of malignant tumors. But yesterday the Iowa legislation failed to make it through the funnel to come up for debate, so it is dead for now. Why wouldn’t you want a qualified doctor to have the full option of available medicines to treat these people? By stating that it is time to decriminalize marijuana, I’m assuming that we all agree on that last point. That we should allow a doctor to prescribe medicines to patients. And I am assuming that we will give doctors that option in the very near future. Next year is not an election year, so contact your Iowa state legislator and tell them that 2011 is the year to pass that law. This year’s proposed legislation would have widened treatment options, to include marijuana, for the following illnesses and diseases: cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, nail patella, or the treatment of any of these conditions; a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces any of the following: Cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis. Yet we’re spending time and money arguing about texting!

Even people sitting as jurors on cases of marijuana possession are expressing their views in the most democratic of ways. I have seen acquittals in these cases when there is little doubt that a person possessed a small amount of marijuana. There are often many reasons why someone might vote to acquit. Some people don’t like police officers digging around in trash to find a discarded marijuana seed, then obtain a search warrant to forcibly enter a home, with guns drawn, and cuff everyone in the house, only to seize a small amount of marijuana. I have seen officers disassemble cars on the street to seize $2 worth of marijuana. Videos of interrogations show officers screaming and yelling at teenagers to “confess.” Sometimes its honorable citizens in the comforts of their own home with friends that are treated like armed killers.

Some people decide to plead guilty in these cases because they don’t want to spend money on a lawyer or take time away from work. Some people plead guilty because their lawyer isn’t very good. Some people plead guilty even when they are innocent. Our Iowa courthouses, and as a result our Iowa jails, are housing otherwise good people charged with these offenses. We need to put our time and resources to better use.

 I practice “criminal” law. I’ve represented persons charged with the most serious of crimes including murder and kidnapping down to traffic violations. In almost all cases I charge the same hourly rate regardless of the charge. But as time passes I have now decided to change how I charge my clients in simple possession of marijuana cases. I am no longer charging an hourly rate. I can’t in good conscience do so. I empathize with my clients. When someone is facing a criminal charge, the attorney has to put in a great deal of time to investigate the case, request production of documents and videos, attend the preliminary hearing, the arraignment, depositions, pretrial conferences, hearings on motions, and the trial. Anyone who takes their case to trial is facing thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses. While not doing these for free, I am greatly reducing my fees for my clients charged with possession of marijuana. I don’t want my clients to plead guilty because they can’t afford to fight.


Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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