Officials: Pot legalization brings negatives

Sheriff's sergeant among speakersat Rotary meeting

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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Forget worrying about excess sugar and butter when reaching for baked goods at holiday parties this year. Sean Chavez of Prevent! coalition said you should be worried a different ingredient: Marijuana.

Chavez said his organization has already received reports of people unknowingly eating baked goods infused with pot after Initiative 502 took effect on Dec. 6. He said although personal use of marijuana is legal for those 21 or older in Washington, rules in the workplace are less clear, particularly for organizations that receive federal funding.

Chavez and Clark County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Shane Gardner shared their perspective on the impacts of Initiative 502's passage with the Rotary Club of Vancouver on Wednesday. Both said that although marijuana is legal, its use can have negative effects on people and the community.

Chavez said increased access can lead to increased usage, which changes the social standards.

Gardner said there are some places where bongs are sold next to gum. He said as a parent, he doesn't want to condition children to smoke at a young age.

He also thinks the change will affect his department. He suspects more deputies will need to be trained as drug recognition experts — people who detect if someone is under the influence of a drug and what drug he or she is under the influence of. It will also be more time-intensive to test drivers for driving under the influence of marijuana than citing them for possession.

Pot, alcohol differences

After the 20 minute presentation, the two answered questions from Rotary members.

Someone asked what the difference is between smoking a joint and having a hard drink.

"You cannot have a joint and not be high," Chavez said. "You can have a drink and not be drunk."

He added that there is no way to tell what is in marijuana because dealers mix it with other substances to "spread it out" and that people who have not used it before cannot tell how they will respond to it.

He did admit that smoking a joint won't give you a hangover.

Another member asked if pot was a gateway drug.

Gardner said after spending seven years undercover, he's seen a lot of people who only smoke marijuana. He also said that he hasn't met anyone who does hard drugs who "skipped marijuana."

Pro-marijuana activists were not invited to speak at the meeting.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.