Iowa and Marijuana

2016 is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. This is our eighth post in the series and the following is a recap of where we are with the rankings, from worst (number 50) to this week’s number 42: Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.


Criminal Penalties. If a person is caught with less than a half ounce of marijuana and the marijuana was not offered for sale, he or she faces possession charges. Possession charges in Iowa are distinguished by the number of offenses, which contrasts with many of the other states examined in this series, which base their penalties on weight.

First offenders in possession of any amount of marijuana face a fine up to $1,000 and up to 6 months of imprisonment. Second offenders face a fine of between $315 and $1875  and up to one year in prison. Third-time offenders are subject to a fine of between $625 and $6,250 and up to two years imprisonment. The court will tack on an additional 100 hours of community service if the possession charge occurred within 1,000 feet of a school.

Penalties are harsher for distribution and cultivation of marijuana, and they are as follows:

  • Less than 50 kilograms earns a fine between $750 and $7,500 and up to 5 years in prison.
  • Between 50 and 100 kilograms earns a fine of between $1,000 and $50,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
  • Between 100 and 1000 kilograms earns a fine of between $5,000 and $100,000 and put to 25 years in prison.
  • Over 1000 kilograms earns a fine up to $1,ooo,ooo and up to 50 years in prison.

Racial Disparity. African Americans in Iowa are 8.3 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana in comparison to whites. According to the New York Times, this is the highest racial disparity for marijuana arrests in the nationThe Des Moines Register analyzed 2011-2012 information at city and county levels and found the following:

African-Americans were arrested at 9.9 times the rate of people of other races in Bettendorf, Iowa. That disparity was the highest in Iowa. Two percent of the eastern Iowa community’s population are African-American.

African-Americans were arrested at 7.4 times the rate of people of other races in Urbandale, the greatest disparity in the Des Moines-metro area. Three percent of Urbandale’s population are African-American.

Blacks were arrested at 1.7 times the rate of people of other races in Buena Vista County. That disparity rate was the lowest in the state. Three percent of the county’s population are African-American.

In response to these alarming statistics, the Iowa chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is advocating for a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Iowa.

Medical Marijuana. Iowa allows patients suffering from epilepsy to use high CBD oils for treatment. However, the current program is largely unworkable because Iowans are prohibited from legally producing this oil.

The Iowa state legislature is attempting to fix this with House Study Bill 607. HSB 607 would allow for producing and distributing CBD oil in Iowa. This bill has passed through Iowa’s House Commerce Committee and will eventually be subject to debate on the House floor.

Future Legalization. Iowa does not have an initiative system and this makes it unlikely Iowa will legalize cannabis anytime soon.

Even if Iowa had an initiative process, legalization of recreational marijuana would still be unlikely. A Des Moines Register poll shows 78 percent of Iowa voters support allowing people to use marijuana as medicine, but only 34 percent support recreational use.

Bottomline. Iowa’s penalties for cannabis are bad, but not as harsh as the states previously listed in this series. Its medical marijuana program is restrictive, but reform seems to be gaining traction. What makes Iowa stand out in a bad way is how it unfairly enforces its marijuana laws against African-Americans. Hopefully, the NAACP and other supporters can advocate for a change in law, or at least a change in policy. Until then, we recommend everyone stay far from the Hawkeye State, but especially if you are an African-American.

  • Ryan Cox

    Awesome article. I always thought someone should take a closer look into the fact that penalties for cannabis are pretty harsh. This question needs a revision from law makers and authorities.