Iowa has been a laggard in terms of marijuana reform. Similar to Indiana, it is situated right beside two cannabis-friendly states, Michigan and Illinois, yet it still does not have a proper medical marijuana program and penalties for recreational use remain highly punitive. To date, the state still seems to be dancing around the issue this year when it passed House File 2589. The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds last June, was a mixed bag that drew conflicted reactions from both sides.
House File 2589
HF 2589 has been a particularly polarizing law. While it expanded the list of qualifying conditions, it also effectively lowered the amount of THC that patients can have to just 4.5 grams every 90 days, or 50 mg a day.
Lawmakers in support of HF 2589 say that the law does make an exception for patients who can get a recommendation for a higher dose of THC from their healthcare provider or for those whose condition is terminal with a less than one-year life expectancy.
However, the law also allows property owners and employers to ban cannabis use and enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy, which Sen. Joe Bolkcom pointed out will impact the employment of working-class people, especially people of color.
Decriminalization and legalization
Although poll results last year suggested that there is an uptick in support even for legalization of recreational use among Iowans, decriminalization and legalization still depend on which party is in control. Now that marijuana is legal in South Dakota, Democratic Iowa lawmakers are pushing for the same this year. Around 44 Democratic government officials, from city council members to Iowa state senators, signed on in support of legalizing possession and the expungement of criminal records for possession misdemeanors. However, the numbers don’t guarantee success in this case since Gov. Kim Reynolds adamantly said that she will not be the governor who will legalize marijuana in Iowa.
Despite this, Des Moines also recently shelved a recommendation from a task force created last year to study marijuana decriminalization, as part of a unanimous vote to adopt anti-racial profiling ordinance. The task force recommended making marijuana possession the lowest enforcement priority for police, but Des Moines officials said they would rather wait for federal or state action.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of Iowa Marijuana Laws
Iowa’s marijuana laws do not allow the use of low-THC CBD in flower form. Home cultivation of hemp and cannabis is absolutely illegal.
- Possession – Possession of any amount for personal use is charged as a misdemeanor. If the offense happens within 1000 feet of an elementary school, secondary school, public park, or school bus, the penalty gets an additional 100 hours of community service.
- First offense – up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $1000.
- Second offense – up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine of $315 up to $1875.
- Third offense – this is an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $625 up to $6250.
- Sale/cultivation – If the intent to distribute can be proven, it is automatically considered a felony.
- 50 kgs or less – Class D felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $750 up to $7500.
- More than 50 kgs to 100 kgs, or if the offender solicits the aid of a minor under 18 in the act – Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1000 up to $50,000.
- More than 100 kgs to 1000 kgs less – Class B felony punishable by up to 50 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,000,000. The distribution of marijuana to a minor under 18 gets the same penalty, except with only 25 years imprisonment in addition to a mandatory minimum term of 5 years. If the act occurs within 1,000 feet of a park, elementary school, middle school, or marked school bus, the mandatory minimum term becomes 10 years.
History of Marijuana in Iowa
Even though Iowans are still currently stuck with only a medical cannabidiol program, this is not to say that lawmakers in the state have not been working to push marijuana reform forward. In fact, attempts at decriminalizing cannabis began as early as the 70s. In 1979, medical marijuana was also allowed, albeit through a therapeutic research center but a research program was never implemented. In 2010, the Board of Pharmacy also voted to have marijuana classified as a Schedule II which acknowledges its medical use. This allowed healthcare providers to prescribe cannabis to patients. Again, nothing came of it after.
House File 2313 and Senate Bill 2360
It became obvious through the years that marijuana reform in Iowa was being put through a bureaucratic wringer and barely anything from the original proposal gets implemented. That didn’t stop lawmakers from trying. Efforts were made again in 2014 when House File 2313 and Senate Bill 2360 were introduced. HF 2313, which sought to reduce possession penalties, ended up getting rejected when it failed to progress before the expiry of a procedural deadline. A proposal to deprioritize possession under an ounce in Cedar Falls was also rejected by the city council around this time.
On the other hand, SB 2360 got signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad. Once again, the medical cannabidiol act seemed more like a mock consolation since it contained no provision for obtaining CBD legally within the state or from another.
In 2017, Branstad also approved the expansion of the list of qualifying conditions under Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Act to include cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and more. Even though it was a step in the right direction, significant resistance still faced CBD in Iowa at a time when other states already had full-fledged medical marijuana programs. In 2018, law enforcement began seizing CBD products that according to them, contained CBD that has not been tested. Some of the seized products were then sent to the state crime lab for testing, but the results only appear to be the opinion of the lab examiner and no information on the cannabinoid content was provided.
THC limit reduced
At present, marijuana advocates have no choice but to compromise with conservative leadership when proposing new laws and amendments otherwise, none would be approved. This was made very clear with HF 2589 which was made to allow only 4.5 grams of THC every 90 days so that it had a better chance of not getting vetoed by the governor, according to Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota. Gov. Reynolds vetoed a previous measure in 2019 that set the THC allowance at 25 grams.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Iowa
How do Iowa’s marijuana laws compare with those in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Iowa
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Iowa. However, some cities like Des Moines are already looking into decriminalizing simple possession.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Iowa.
Not exactly. Cannabis extract is allowed in Iowa but the state’s cannabidiol law is extremely restrictive such that it only allows patients 4.5 grams of THC per 90 days.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Iowa.
Marijuana advocates generally have a negative opinion on HF 2589 which was signed by Gov. Reynolds this year. Although it expanded the list of qualifying conditions, it also lessened the amount of THC that a patient can possess.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Iowa.
Growing marijuana in Iowa is strictly illegal for residents of all ages.
Contrary to Rep. Klein’s opinion on HF 2589, Rep. John Forbes called the new THC limit a “big step backwards”. The Democratic lawmaker, who is also a pharmacist, said that the lower cap might make patients who need more to drop off the CBD program and likely back on addicting opioid medications.
It looks like cannabis businesses also share the same gloomy sentiments on Iowa’s marijuana laws as Forbes. Multistate marijuana operator Acreage Holdings recently withdrew from Iowa, saying that the company would rather focus on markets with better potential for growth. In fact, the whole medical cannabis industry in the state is not doing so well, not only because of the recent Covid situation, but due to the state’s highly restrictive cannabis laws.
Many say that Iowa leaders like Reynolds are increasingly getting out of touch with what her constituents want. Even fellow Republicans such as Sen. Brad Zaun expressed his disappointment with the governor’s veto of last year’s measure. It becomes obvious that the hindrance to legalization is not the public’s stance on marijuana, but rather the state’s. If Iowa’s leadership continues to be dismissive of cannabis legalization, it’s likely to drive patients to neighboring states or even the black market. This could make the state’s marijuana woes much worse in the future.