DES MOINES, Iowa — April 20 marks a beloved "holiday" for some Iowans, but it's not one you'll find on any calendars. Celebrating 4/20 dates back to California in 1971—teens used it as slang to refer to smoking marijuana. Ever since, the date has been a big one for smokers across the country, but here in Iowa, many are frustrated that they can't celebrate legally.
According to a report from the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, around 7% of Iowa adults smoke marijuana—that's the 4th-lowest in the country. Recreational use is still totally illegal in the Hawkeye state, and for some residents, that's frustrating. One smoker spoke to Local 5 about using marijuana; she asked to not be identified.
"It's a really great community builder," the woman said. "I've met so many people just by smoking with them. It's a good way to spend time with people and relax and have a more laid-back experience with friends."
According to the ACLU of Iowa, 55% of drug arrests in the state are for marijuana charges. In Iowa, possession of marijuana, the most common charge, is a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of up to six months in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both. Operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana is a serious misdemeanor, and that's a crime someone could still end up in trouble for, even if they didn't smoke that day.
"Under Iowa law, if there's a detectable amount of an illegal controlled substance in a person's system...then the person is deemed to be operating under the influence," said Dean Stowers, a partner with Stowers & Nelsen.
Figuring out when a person smoked can be tricky since there's no rapid test for marijuana. Only blood or urine samples work, so a police officer might not be able to test someone right after pulling them over. With Illinois legalizing marijuana, and multiple other neighboring states decriminalizing small amounts, proving someone is driving high can be a tall order.
"Prosecutors, oftentimes, if they're presented with those things, they might take those into account in adjusting the charge, dismissing the charge, or deferring the prosecution," Stowers said.
But even so, there's no guarantee for leniency. The smoker who spoke to Local 5 hoped to eventually see legalization here in Iowa.
"It would just make life easier if we could treat it like a substance like alcohol. We trust people to make the decision to drink after work, but we don't trust people to make this decision about marijuana," she said.