Dems should push to legalize weed

Whatever it is Democrats are selling, Iowans are not buying. So try this: Legalize weed. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds faces reelection in 2022. Iowa is a Covid disaster area. One-party control of state government is likely to lead to excess. Reynolds might be vulnerable. Any number of Democrats might want to run, but on what? Competence? That didn’t matter in the Iowa presidential vote.

Harold Hughes, a recovering alcoholic truck driver from Ida Grove, faced longshot odds in 1962 when he took on incumbent Gov. Norman Erbe, R-Boone. Hughes won on promoting liquor-by-the-drink — before then, Iowa did not allow mixed drinks to be sold in bars. 

A Democrat might win these days by promoting legalized marijuana. 

South Dakota voters, notoriously conservative, approved in a November referendum at 53 percent. You can bet there will be a beaten path from Northwest Iowa to North Sioux City come July, when the law takes effect and the first shops open. Illinois also legalized it, and Moline is now a top destination for Iowa pot tourists. They are among 15 states that have ended the facade, and another 16 have decriminalized it (including Minnesota). 

The U.S. House voted this month to remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous drugs like heroin. 

Iowa, meanwhile, has among the most restrictive laws in the nation. Only cannabis with no THC (the psychoactive ingredient) can be possessed by a few medical patients. Other states allow THC products for cancer patients, for treatment of pain and PTSD, and for relief from MS, among other uses. 

For its many endearing charms Iowa is Puritanical, to the point of being stupid about it. We were among the last states to allow mixed drinks in a bar. Few people thought that could change — least of all by Harold Hughes. 

But opinions do change. Look at how rapidly views on gay marriage evolved. Just a few years ago fewer than 30 percent of those surveyed by the Iowa Poll approved of legalized marijuana. Last March the Iowa Poll reported 53 percent support — the same as South Dakota, with 58 percent support among independents. Support will continue to increase as other states adopt it. Iowans will hate to see all that money flowing to North Sioux City, Moline and East Dubuque. 

Tax cannabis and let the revenues pay for better education and roads. Or more tax cuts, since that is what voters seem to want. Or better treatment for drug and alcohol offenders. 

Reynolds has said she would never allow Mary Jane in. Her mentor, former Gov. Terry Branstad, said he would never sign legal gambling into law. Until he did. 

A Democrat might be able to make some hay, as they say, if you put it with a platform of competence, transparency, better schools, improved health care access and lower property taxes. 

Iowa moved on gambling once the state saw Native Americans about to scoop up all the profits. South Dakota did the same after Natives attempted to open a weed resort. Then they voted for legal pot. 

Iowa might be moved in a couple years to get with the age and move on from Reefer Madness with all that money flowing across the borders. 

But not with Reynolds, if you take her at her word. 

A Democrat should make it the leading issue. It might work. 

Art Cullen is the publisher and editor of The Storm Lake Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 2017.

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