Marijuana diversion program is about “second chances”

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) – While marijuana laws in Iowa have not changed dramatically in 2020, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden still feels people want less severe punishments for possession.

“I think that most recognize that people who are found with a small quantity of marijuana perhaps, maybe deserve a second chance,” Vander Sanden said.

His office announced a new Marijuana Diversion program Monday, which will help first-time offenders keep their records clean if they meet certain criteria.

People caught with a quantity just enough for their personal use will be eligible for the voluntary program which requires substance abuse counseling and community service to get their criminal record cleared.

Judges have a history of dismissing small possession charges against first-time offenders but the record of their actual arrest lives on. However, a court order can remove someone’s arrest record.

Vander Sanden wants to use this tactic for small marijuana arrests.

His office says a reason behind this program is that arrests for possession can impact someone’s ability to get approved for housing or a job.

“We’ve watched the trends when it comes to enforcement of marijuana laws across the nation,” Vander Sanden said. “And we’re trying to be responsive to the changing attitudes of the community.”

People would still have to make an initial court appearance but can request to join the diversion program after meeting with their lawyer.

The most recent change to Iowa marijuana laws was that people with PTSD and severe autism became eligible for medical marijuana in July.

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