Most people don't think of Iowa as a hotbed of progressive drug policies. Ethanol fuel legislation, sure. Farm subsidies, totally. But the middle of the middle of middle America doesn't exactly have the reputation of, say, Colorado, or Oregon, or Amsterdam.
That may change, however, following the recent passage of the Iowa Democratic Party's 2016 State Platform. There, nestled about halfway through the 30 page document, is plank 293, which calls for "legalizing all drugs." All of them. But don't pack up and head to Sioux City for a weekend of narcotic debauchery just yet.
"The brevity of the document doesn’t encompass the true meaning," Shelly Van Winkle, a member of the party's state central committee told The Des Moines Register. Instead, she explained, the goal is to reframe drug abuse as a medical, rather than criminal issue. As delegate Ryan Rogers told the same paper, it's a "divestment strategy in the drug war."
"No one is advocating a libertarian drug free-for-all and putting cocaine back in Coca-Cola,” Rogers explained to The Register. “The reason to support this is to step by step reform drug laws and focus on treatment over punishment."
In essence, supporters of the plank want drugs moved out of the realm of law enforcement, and into the realm of highly regulated medical treatment and usage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the term "legalizing" was almost removed from the party platform entirely. As The Sioux City Journal notes, the platform committee was given the option to use the word "decriminalizing" instead, or remove the plank entirely. But, reports The Register, fears that the term "decriminalizing" would still lend itself to legal consequences, and distance the plank from its goal of reframing drugs as a medical issue. Those fears, coupled with the enthusiasm of the planks supporters helped push the more permissive "legalizing" language through.
For Van Winkle, this represents is the first step toward opening the doors for medical marijuana treatment. "In our state we don’t have a law that allows Iowans to access medicinal cannabis,” she told the website The Influence. “Sending sick Iowans to other states is forcing them to break federal law. We needed dispensaries in our state."
Not all Iowa Democrats are quite as enthusiastic about their party's platform, however.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life as substance abuse counselor and I’m not going to support legalization of methamphetamine and illegal opioids,” Mark Smith, the Democrats' House Minority Leader, said to The Journal. “I just can’t go that direction."
"It doesn’t reflect everyone’s interest in the room, certainly, and I don’t know how much of a majority it was,"Mike Robinson, chairman for the party's platform committee told The Register. "But all they needed was a one-vote majority."
Regardless of its inclusion on the party's platform, the call for legalizing all drugs has abysmal prospects when it comes to actually becoming law. "That legislation will not move through the Iowa Legislature," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told The Journal.
For Van Winkle, however, the approval of this plank is just the beginning.
"I’ve been breaking down the stereotypes," she told The Influence. "[My legislators are] learning the lingo—I taught them about capsules, I taught them about vaping—they’re starting to get it.”