Republican state rep works to change drug, gun laws that got him arrested
Jeff Shipley faced 20 years for small amounts of weed, shrooms
This is a story of personal redemption, with guns and drugs and power.
And it stars Jeff Shipley, 30, a suit-wearing Republican state representative from rural Iowa.
If you look at one side of him, Shipley is typical middle-America GOP: church on Sundays, applauded President Trump at a fundraising dinner when the President rolled through Iowa last week, supports guns in schools and prays for the end of abortion.
But there's another side to Shipley.
And this story starts one morning in 2012, when Shipley drove down a cold and lonely road east of Omaha, in Dallas County, Iowa.
A cop must've thought Shipley looked nervous; he pulled Shipley over, on the pretense that Shipley's licence plate cover obscured his plate. The cop smelled the weed and searched the car and turned up 7 grams of marijuana, 7 grams of shrooms and a 40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun he had no permit to carry, Shipley says.
Before long, Shipley was in an orange jumpsuit in a cell, on his way to being charged with intent to distribute controlled substances combined with a concealed weapon. He faced a minimum sentence of 20 years. One jailer, he says, didn't like his silent, sullen attitude, and wrote on the white board outside his cell: "Retard needs more shrooms."
"I felt like my life was kind of over," Shipley says by phone from Iowa. Eventually, he took a plea, did probation, and eventually had the charges expunged in 2014. But the whole thing left him exhausted and humiliated.
Seven years later, Shipley is still angry, but he says he "came back empowered." The arrest, he says, may have been God's way of getting his life back on track
As a young nobody — a self-proclaimed sauerkraut salesman — he got himself elected to state senate in August 2018 by a margin of 37 votes.
But he's also driven with a sense of injustice about his trip to jail. It just seems unfair.
"I was being an idiot … [But] I wasn't hurting anybody," Shipley says now. "Maybe it was self-destructive behavior, but it's my right to be self destruct."
"Our society has serious challenges with substance abuse," Shipley states now, "but I don’t see locking people in cages as the best answer."
If Shipley gets his way, there will be no more going to jail just for having a gun in Iowa. This legislative session, Shipley introduced a so-called Constitutional Carry gun rights bill, which lets you pack a gun nearly anywhere without having a concealed carry permit. South Dakota and Missouri have similar laws.
Shipley established himself as a leader in trying to expand Iowa’s virtually non-existent medical marijuna program, attempting to draw a comparison between deaths related to opiods versus marijuana in the House floor.
“I don’t really like THC anymore, especially not for young people. I don’t think it’s safe and harmless now the same way I did years ago. But I still think criminalization and prohibition exacerbates the social challenges of drug abuse,” Shipled writes to Rooster.
And, in a move that made national headlines, Shipley introduced bills that would mean no going to jail just for having certain drugs. His bills would legalize MDMA (ecstasy, molly) for personal use, and decriminalize psilocybin (mushrooms).
He's one of the few politicians we've ever heard of endorsing mushrooms.
“Decriminalizing psilocybin is certainly one of the issues that I’m most excited to take on," Shipley writes to Rooster. "There’s tremendous potential for clinical applications and many people are using it now as a tool for self-development or even as a daily supplement in a micro-dose. As long as they’re (magic mushrooms) treated with respect, I recommend them.”
The bills didn't advance; Shipley says he'll try again next year.
Shipley traveled to Denver to watch the Mile High City's successful campaign to decriminalize mushrooms. It's an issue he thinks even conservative Iowa will eventually embrace.
“We’re here to start a conversation about a very important subject that most people have no idea about, it’s going to take time," he writes to Rooster.
Politicians are motivated by all kinds of things; JFK's dad Joseph Kennedy felt looked down on by the wealthy Protestants of Boston; he wanted his son to be the first Catholic president; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, sons of absent fathers, wanted to prove themselves worthy. For a lot of pols, the motivation is personal, it comes from their past, and it powers them to power.
For Shipley, his personal story might help keep folks out of jail.
Shipley is still "flabbergasted" that a first-time, non-violent drug and gun offender like he was should face a mandatory minimum of 20 years. His dream is to change the gun and drug laws, then look in the general direction of Dallas County, Iowa, and say: "Let's try it this way now."