Cedar Rapids City Council candidate Jorel Robinson discusses gun violence, traffic cameras and decriminalizing marijuana

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In the Nov. 5 election, Cedar Rapids voters will choose three members for city council.

Incumbent Scott Overland is challenged by Sofia Mehaffey in District 2. There are two open at-large seats and three candidates running: incumbent Ann Poe, Patrick Loeffler and Jorel Robinson. Incumbent Scott Olson is running unopposed in District 4.

Little Village is interviewing the five city council candidates in contested races. These interviews are a follow up from the candidate guide that was published earlier this month.

Jorel Robinson — photo provided by candidate

Jorel Robinson, a productivity specialist at GoDaddy, is seeking an at-large seat on the Cedar Rapids City Council.

Robinson is a co-founder of the Big Bang Foundation. He said the group started as a way for him and his friends to travel and perform music, but they wanted to do something more, so the group turned its focus to connecting with young people of color to help raise the awareness of those young people of their own abilities and empower them.

“Gun violence was what sparked us to take this role,” said Robinson, who has also cited gun violence as a large reason why he is running for city council.

“Being in the community is very important. Do [kids] have after school program access? Are there hindrances to these programs? There’s kids out here that need a place to be, things to do. We have to try our best, and realize there are parents who can’t always afford it.”

Robinson said he would also like to end the city’s use of traffic cameras, which started again in July. The city stopped using the cameras in April 2017 due to pending lawsuits that were resolved earlier this year.

Robinson told Little Village in September some of his other priorities include affordable housing, which he said the city needs if it is going to continue to grow. He also wants to focus on improving how the city council shares information so that people in the city are aware of what is happening.

When it comes to the First and First West site, Robinson said he would like to see it used for something that will be sustainable for the future and a benefit to the community. He’s not exactly sure what this could be and wants to talk to residents and get their input.

Another issue Robinson has been vocal on is decriminalizing marijuana. He supports creating a ballot initiative to determine the public’s stand on this issue.

“It makes sense for us,” Robinson said. “We’re the second largest city [in Iowa] and should be ahead of the curve instead of one of the last states to get it done.”

He cited Illinois’ legalization of marijuana, which will take effect in January 2020, as a sign of how Iowa is falling behind on this issue. Two of Iowa’s other neighboring states, Minnesota and Missouri, have both legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Iowa, on the other hand, only permits the use of medical cannabidiol (mCBD) for a very limited range of illnesses. Iowa puts greater restrictions on mCBD than almost any other state that also permits it, and in May, Gov. Reynolds vetoed a bill that would have eased some of those restrictions.

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Robinson said the arrest disparity between minorities and whites for marijuana possession is a major reason he favors decriminalization. Despite black Iowans making up 4.5 of the state’s population, they account for almost 21 percent of first offense marijuana possession. Experts have emphasized marijuana use is similar among blacks and whites.

“We’ve got to be real about this,” Robinson said. “Things are changing and if we could stop focusing on this and focus on real crime … it saves a lot of people from being put into the system.”

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