Donnelly: Clark County must count human cost of marijuana




Ann Donnelly, a Vancouver businesswoman, is a former chair of the Clark County Republican Party.

Clark County councilors will soon consider whether to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in unincorporated Clark County. A council work session is planned for Dec. 13.

The risks and human costs of introducing pot sales at some 70 proposed store locations must be assessed along with the benefits of a tax boost and some new jobs.

If the Washougal City Council public hearing on Aug. 22, 2016, is a guide, testimony from interested citizens will be influential. In Washougal, council members heard students from Washougal High School describe the devastating impact pot has had on some of their classmates, family members, and themselves.

A school administrator testified that pot sales would undermine student performance and send impressionable students the wrong message. The Washougal City Council eventually voted against pot sales. Camas has also decided against recreational pot sales.

Washington projects it will receive $730 million in taxes from marijuana sales for 2017 through 2019. Only 4 percent — $30 million — goes to the local governments such as Vancouver and Battle Ground that permit sales. The city of Vancouver receives $500,000 per year, expected to rise to $2.1 million by 2020, funds it devotes primarily to the police department.

Pot taxes pay for only about 10 percent of the total police budget, so increased needs may not be covered.

Clark County would likely receive more tax money than Vancouver. Yet one pot grower opined to Lars Larson’s Northwest show that “up to 20 percent of the pot” goes underground, where it is accessible to kids and not taxable.

Even if pot consumption and associated tax dollars increase, are these good trends for Clark County? On several counts, no.

As the stigma of pot use declines and consumption increases, consider the impact on the employability of our young people. Technology is replacing human labor at an alarming pace. Family-wage jobs are increasingly needed to pay for housing.

A pot habit jeopardizes employment in many growing industries: health and hospitals, transportation, airlines, railroads, manufacturing, construction, most engineering jobs, and the military. The requirement to be free of pot in these safety-oriented industries is fully justified.

Looking beyond the employability risks, pot consumption has public health risks. The American Medical Association advances a policy that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.” The American Psychiatric Association states “current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.”

Schizophrenia risk

The disorder clearly linked to pot use is schizophrenia, a devastating and complex illness with high societal costs. Dr. Samuel Wilkinson, Yale School of Medicine, provided the basis for this connection in a July 1, 2013, article in the Wall Street Journal, referencing medical studies published in British Journal of Psychiatry and Lancet.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in its 2017 “Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids” concluded that “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use the greater the risk.” The study also cited serious impacts of pot use on individuals with bipolar disorder, promoting thoughts of suicide (already a societal burden) and higher risk of social anxiety disorder.

Sadly, the impacts of dozens of new recreational pot shops will fall heavily on the vulnerable, leading to non-compliance with prescribed medication, possible loss of housing, diversion of scarce cash to buying pot, impaired judgment, and likely unemployment. These are the risks the Clark County council must assess.