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Iowa drug possession penalties may be eased

Under current Iowa law, a person found in possession of a marijuana joint can be sentenced to up to six months in jail. That may be in addition to a $1,000 fine for a first offense. However, Senate File 432 is the most recent effort to relax penalties for first offenders in the state. If passed, those in possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Penalties would include a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a fine of $625. In 2016, half of the 3,400 convictions for marijuana possession involved those who had 5 grams or less. Those who are in favor of the bill say current laws have a disparate impact on African-Americans. Of those convicted for a first offense, 18 percent were African-American despite only making up 3.5 percent of the state's population.

Proponents also point out that a marijuana possession conviction could prevent young people from going to school or finding jobs. A state legislator said that the bill could save local governments time and money that may be used to handle more serious offenses. The law enforcement community in the state has come out in opposition to the bill while the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy has remained neutral.

Individuals who are charged with drug possession may be sentenced to time in jail or prison in addition to a fine. A conviction could also make it difficult to find employment. However, an attorney can review a case and potentially help a defendant obtain a favorable outcome.

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