Local marijuana event gets snuffed out

Law on smoking in public scuttles plan to hold it at fairgrounds

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Even after voter-approved Initiative 502 becomes law on Thursday, marijuana enthusiasts and connoisseurs won’t be able to hold events on public property if they intend to partake in smoking the state’s newly legal product.

Camas resident Robert Flatt discovered that after attempting to rent space at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds for just such an event.

“There was going to be food, there was going to be music, we were asking law enforcement to come get involved and explain some things to us,” Flatt said. And while Flatt says he would not be partaking, he did plan for folks to be able to have a smoke at the event.

“Yes, I am sure there would be smoking of marijuana. It is a legal activity,” he said.

Problem is, state law forbids smoking in any public place or place of employment. And the law doesn’t limit smoke or smoking to just tobacco.

“I actually approached (the county health department) originally about a cigar convention,” said Justin Kobluk, executive director at the county event center. “I wanted to take the issue of marijuana out of the equation. If they are all legal, it makes no difference. So we looked at what are the ways to get around the (state law).”

Kobluk didn’t find any. While the event center has smoking zones, the newly passed marijuana law still prohibits smoking in public. Any public use is a $50 infraction, similar to a fine for cracking open a beer on a public street.

“My business is renting the space for events, so I want this to happen,” Kobluk said. “But there is enough that just doesn’t fit with the laws that we have. And I can’t enter into a legal contract that I know would be against the law.”

Flatt says he’s disappointed with the county’s take. He’s still looking for a spot to host an event, but realizes it might not take place until well into next year.

“It’s too new of a law and it’s got too much stink to it right now,” said Flatt, who admits he still has a bit of trouble wrapping his head around the fact that marijuana will be legal.

And perhaps at that time the law will be more clear. The state still has to figure out the process of selling marijuana. While it is legal to own, there currently isn’t any way to legally purchase the product.

Even medical marijuana, which has been legal in the state since 1998, still runs into problems with the law. Last week, a medical cannabis farmers market that was scheduled to take place in Vancouver on Sunday was canceled after state and federal authorities advised the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay that some parts of the event would violate the law. The event promoted selling marijuana, which is against the law.

The city of Vancouver and Clark County appear to be taking different courses on dealing with medical marijuana as well. The city is looking to zone for collective medical marijuana gardens to conform with state law. The county is looking at banning the gardens to avoid running afoul of federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

The county is likely to have lengthy discussions on recreational marijuana as well.

As Clark County commissioners have discussed how to develop rules around the gardens, they have also mulled over the reality of the drug being recreationally available.

Senior Policy Analyst Axel Swanson told commissioners last week they should expect to have “several policy discussions” in the coming year over how marijuana is treated.

Swanson pointed out the first big check on the law will be to see how the federal government reacts.


Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.