Iowa 2014 Cliff Hanger

By Richard Farrell 05/16/2014

Discussing decriminalizing medical marijuana in the Hawkeye State almost made it in 2013 - but not quite, because the legislative session ran out of time before the item came up. In 2014, Republicans and Democrats will debate whether citizens suffering from cancer, hiv/aids, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, severe pain and nausea, and other ailments may grow their own, or buy it at a weed dispensary.

In the interim, pastor-turned-politician John Zimmermann is determined to intervene. He has thrown his hat into the ring as candidate for the post of Johnson County Attorney. He intends ending what he regards as ‘over prosecution’ of drug and alcohol charges. Instead, he wants to see ‘a more progressive approach to criminal justice’. He should be hot on the subject, having just graduated from Iowa University Law School in December 2013.

The policies of the current County Attorney fall especially hard on folks who are poor and people of color,” he claims. “The current policies result in the over-prosecution of students, and folks whose problems with the law stem especially from untreated mental illnesses and from untreated substance abuse problems. Often, the current approach makes things worse instead of better”. Proponents of marijuana dispensaries may have much to be grateful to him in the future.

If elected, the pastor-turned-lawyer intends assessing cases not based just on proof, but also in the light of evidence of any racial profiling. His acid test will be whether the association with weed strains is sufficiently serious to justify attention from the criminal justice network. If not, he may decline to prosecute.

John Zimmermann is by implication not against the concept of a marijuana dispensary. He does not intend prosecuting for possession of or being high on marijuana. “It’s victimless, it’s not particularly harmful and people of color get way disproportionately charged with it. No more petty marijuana charges if I win,” he adds confidently.

His particular weed review began when he noted how many fellow-students had to leave town with criminal records, and no prospect of practicing their profession. His vision includes turning things around the other way and not hammering the innocent. Instead, he wants to come down hard on rape, wage theft and domestic violence.

Current incumbent County Attorney Janet Lyness is well entrenched, having been in the role since 2006. Some thought her disparaging when she commented that the job is about enforcing laws not making them. “I’d encourage somebody who wants to work on changing the laws to run for the legislature,” she added.

By contrast, Zimmermann is a long-time social activist not a bureaucrat. He has seen the effects of unfair prosecution and non-administration of marijuana dispensaries. His proposal for a more interactive people’s attorney is an interesting one. After all, if a County Attorney may not use his brain when prosecuting, then what hope is there for justice? Crunch time will come at the primaries on June 3, 2014.


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