Your Town Now: Stop pot prosecution now

If you generally don’t vote in local primary elections but are pissed off by current County Attorney Janet Lyness’ practice of prosecuting nearly everyone charged with victimless crimes, such as possession and use of marijuana and public intox, you can do something about it.

Make it a priority to vote—and to get your friends to vote—for John Zimmerman, in the upcoming Johnson County June 3 Democratic primary. Early voting for the primary starts April 24 at the Auditor’s Office in the County Administration Building (913 S. Dubuque St.), satellite voting locations around town (e.g., the Iowa City Public Library, Coralville Public Library, UI Hospitals) and by absentee ballot.

All across the country, states and municipalities are either legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, and this election gives Johnson County voters the opportunity to vote for de facto decriminalization; it’s important that we do this, because we’ll likely wait years for the state legislature to modernize its thinking on this issue. The marijuana prosecutions now happening in Johnson County can be stopped locally by voting for Zimmerman for Johnson County Attorney.

Electing Zimmerman as county attorney will keep hundreds of people each year from having criminal records because they use marijuana. His policy will mean that residents, no matter their reason for using marijuana, will not have to fear the Drug Task Force arriving at their houses, being intimidated into letting them into their homes and being taken to the jail if pot is found.

Most everyone who is booked at the Johnson County Jail must submit to a mug shot, fingerprinting and strip search. Depending on what time you arrive at the pokey, you might also spend the night there, possibly with no dinner (if you arrive after 4:30 p.m.) and no breakfast (except a granola bar) before a webcam appearance before a judge who will then, generally, let you out on your own recognizance while your serious misdemeanor charge is going through the overcrowded legal system.

Zimmerman’s opponent, incumbent Janet Lyness has repeatedly stated that she is obligated to prosecute every charge that comes into her office. This is simply not true: County attorneys are sworn to uphold the laws of the state, but they have the authority to selectively prosecute as stated in the Iowa Attorneys Association Prosecutorial Standards, 2.1:

The decision to initiate or pursue criminal charges or to divert cases from the criminal justice system shall be within the discretion of the prosecutor, excepting only the grand jury. Within his or her discretion, the prosecutor shall determine whether charges should be filed or pursued; whether an offender should be diverted to other treatment alternatives; what should be filed; how many charges should be filed; and how charges should be prosecuted.

Too often, residents are being arrested for using marijuana or having small amounts of it in their possession when stopped by the police. Recently, a man in North Liberty was arrested because police found marijuana in his possession after he’d been struck by a car while bicycling. Like so many others before and after him, he was arrested, taken to the jail, suffered the indignities described above and spent time in the overcrowded pokey before being released.

The upcoming June 3 primary (early voting begins April 24) gives you the opportunity to bring some sanity to our local system of justice.

Weed & Feed

It’s that time of year when homeowners turn to lawn chemicals. Is this because they find the sickly-sweet odor of toxic chemicals euphoric, never thinking that in their pursuit of weedless, perfect, sterile lawns they could be responsible for their pets’ ailments—or their own?

In their desire to make money at the expense of a healthy planet, lawn care chemical businesses managed to get a section into the Code of Iowa preventing local governments from banning these poisons. See Section 206.34.2:   

Local Legislation Prohibition: The provisions of this chapter and rules adopted by the department pursuant to this chapter shall preempt local legislation adopted by a local governmental entity relating to the use, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, disposal, formulation, labeling, registration or manufacture of a pesticide. … Local legislation in violation of this section is void and unenforceable.

In other words, even though Iowa City voted over 40 years ago to be governed by a Home Rule Charter, we cannot regulate or ban lawn chemicals. Companies can make and sell this poison to anyone who wants to buy and apply it. Lawn care companies hired to apply it are supposed to follow directions for application, but sometimes do not, spraying on windy days when the chemical drift can blow far and wide. Homeowners often disregard the directions and use more than is printed on the label in order to make sure that all weeds are thoroughly killed.

Three to four times a year, Johnson County is bathed in a pervasive pesticidal overdose; rain washes much of it off the lawns and into the street where it eventually runs into our creeks, streams and rivers. When this toxic runoff reaches waterways, it feminizes the frogs and fish and makes rivers and streams largely uninhabitable for many of the smaller creatures that live there. Glyphosate (RoundUp), the innocuously named “Weed & Feed” (containing 2,4D, glyphosate and Dicamba) as well as anti-grub and insect products containing Chlorpyrifos are prominent in the seed and garden stores (they can be smelled as soon as one walks in the door).

“Weed & Feed” is not the name of a marijuana-infused snack cracker from Colorado. The toxicity of chemical lawn care products of this kind causes some serious side effects: various cancers as well as diseases caused by hormonal disruptions. Organophosphate pesticides (e.g., Chlorpyrifos) are neurotoxins; research has shown that these neurotoxins are causally involved in various diseases of the nervous system including Parkinson’s disease.

Your lawn combined with hundreds of lawns across the county and the many business applications result in thousands of pounds of poison being used each year in Johnson County alone. Please keep this in mind: thousands of pounds of poison being used each year in Johnson County alone.

Valuing a weedless lawn over the health of yourself, your family, your pets and your neighbors is sheer stupidity; stop being foolish and turn your fancies instead to kind thoughts, like ‘love the earth, it’s the only one we’ve got.”

Carol deProsse and Caroline Dieterle: 85+ years of trying to shake up the system.

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