In Our View: Stonewalling Pot Must End

State's voters approved legalization of marijuana; officials ought to respect that



As somebody once said of elections, “When they don’t turn out the way that we like, we understand that we try to dismiss them, but it’s the only way that we have that when the people speak, and we have an election, the results matter.”

The fact that the monologue was delivered last month by Clark County Commissioner David Madore makes it pertinent. And the fact that Madore and other county commissioners are talking about extending a moratorium on marijuana-related operations — despite a statewide election in 2012 that approved legalization — makes it particularly relevant.

Initiative 502 was passed by 56 percent of the voters (in Clark County, 50.3 percent of the electorate said “no”), allowing for recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. That was 14 months ago. Since then, the state Liquor Control Board has capped the maximum number of marijuana shops statewide at 334; a total of 15 of those may be in Clark County, including six in unincorporated areas where commissioners have control.

Not that the issue is limited to county government. Vancouver, Camas and Washougal also have placed moratoriums on the establishment of shops, attempting to subvert the will of the people and ignoring the fact that when “we have an election, the results matter.”

Editorially, The Columbian supported passage of I-502, arguing that the United States’ prohibition of the drug resulted in a harmful waste of time and resources. But regardless of how one feels about marijuana and its legalization, the fact is that the law was passed, and government officials should be preparing to enforce that law rather than ignoring it.

At a work session last week, Clark County commissioners expressed interest in adopting an ordinance modeled on one that was approved by Pierce County in the south Puget Sound region. That ordinance states that no marijuana-licensed business shall be approved in the county until the federal government legalizes the drug. U.S. Department of Justice officials indicated last year that they would not sue Washington, Colorado (which also approved legalization in 2012) or other states that wish to legalize the drug so long as the operations are sufficiently regulated.

Those regulations are in place in Washington, which makes the stonewalling by local officials especially egregious. At last week’s meeting, board Chairman Tom Mielke asked questions such as how many stores would be allowed, and he was joined by Madore and fellow Commissioner Steve Stuart in saying there were too many unanswered questions. Those questions should have been asked long ago, and the answers to many of them already have been provided. State officials announced four months ago how many stores would be allowed and where they could be located, leaving commissioners’ declarations of ignorance with a hollow ring to them.

Madore long has been clear on his opposition to marijuana, and he said last month that, “There are limits to what people’s elections can do.” Considering that this was at the same meeting in which he delivered a reminder that election results matter, the hypocrisy is impossible to ignore.

We can respect the fact that some people might personally be opposed to marijuana use, but it is difficult to defend a representative who willfully ignores the electorate. Initiative 502 was not an advisory vote designed to offer suggestions to elected officials; it was a binding initiative that is now law. Officials at the county and the cities of Vancouver, Camas and Washougal should prepare to follow it.