Legalize (all of) it! The surprising position on drugs in the platform of the Iowa Democratic Party (Updated)

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Update: Following the original publication of this story, Mike Robinson, the platform committee chair of the 2016 Iowa Democratic Party Convention, replied to Little Village’s questions. The story has been updated to included Robinson’s answers.

It’s no longer surprising when a politician comes out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, but it is a little surprising that the official position of the Iowa Democratic Party is all drugs should be legalized. At least that the party’s official position on paper — no leading Iowa Democrat has actually endorsed taking that step.

The call to legalize all drugs is plank number 293 in the current Iowa Democratic Party Platform, which was adopted at the 2016 state party convention. “[We support] legalizing all drugs,” is the entire text of the plank, which is in the criminal justice section of the platform. It immediately follows a similar plank that calls for “legalizing cannabis/hemp.”

Little Village emailed the Iowa Democratic Party about the legalize-it-all plank. Asked if this was the first time the Democratic platform included such a plank, Tess Seger, the state party’s communication director, replied, “As far as we know, yes.”

Seger said she wasn’t acquainted with the decisions that led to the inclusion of the plank, and directed questions about the process to Mike Robinson, the chair of the 2016 platform committee.

“They [supporters of the legalize-it-all plank] had the majority at the state convention that year, and the majority rules,” Robinson told Little Village in a phone interview. “I would have like to have seen a minority report attached to that plank, because the whole room wasn’t for that, and certainly the whole party isn’t for that.”

“There’s a little bit of strategy that goes on in conventions,” Robinson explained. “The vote [on the platform] was going late into the evening and early morning hours. By the time the plank was going to be voted on, fatigue had set in and a lot of the delegates had left. It would have been interesting to see if it would have passed if that vote had been earlier in the evening.”

Plank 293 immediately attracted national attention Robinson recalled.

“I had The Washington Post on me the next day, asking, ‘What’s going on in Iowa?’” he said. “It’s one of those things that is easily misconstrued. The intentions are good: trying to cut down on incarcerations for drug-related crimes, and get people back out to be productive citizens again.”

“The law, as it is now, is designed to punish people for having a drug habit, instead of treating the problem.”

With 563 planks, the Iowa Democrat’s platform goes into much greater detail on issues than the platform of the state’s Republican and Libertarian parties. Neither of those parties make the sort of blunt statement on legalization in their platforms the Democrats do. According to one of the 50 planks in the 2016 Iowa Republican platform, the party supports, “legalizing cannabis oil for medical use and industrial hemp for commercial use.” But that’s all.

The Libertarian Party of Iowa’s platform is barely a page long, and contains some nonspecific language about ending the “War on Drugs.”

The parties adopt a new platform every two years at their state party conventions. Asked if the Democrats will retain plank 293, Robinson replied, “The platform process is a very small ‘d’ democratic process. Everyone gets to a vote, everyone gets a say and can participate in the debates.”

“It’ll be up to the majority what goes into the platform.”

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