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Dec. 9, 2019

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In Our View: County should repeal ban on weed businesses

The Columbian
Published: April 7, 2019, 6:03am

Whether or not the Clark County Council eventually allows marijuana-related businesses, residents are going to use the drug. Recreational marijuana shops are readily accessible in Vancouver and Battle Ground, allowing people from unincorporated parts of the county to purchase cannabis and take it home for their personal use.

Washington voters approved recreational marijuana in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote. While that has led to numerous retail outlets in the area, primarily in Vancouver, Clark County’s government has maintained a moratorium on such businesses. But it has not stemmed the tide of changing public opinion regarding cannabis, which now has been approved for recreational use in 10 states.

As county councilors reconsider their moratorium, we again encourage them to issue licenses to marijuana businesses. While there are valid questions about the societal costs of marijuana legalization, continuing the moratorium is to fight a losing battle while depriving the county of entrepreneurial businesses and tax revenue.

To be sure, councilors are within their rights to prevent such businesses. State law allows individual jurisdictions to permit marijuana businesses but does not require them to do so, and the 2012 statewide marijuana initiative was rejected in Clark County — 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. In addition, councilors have been thoughtful in periodically reconsidering the moratorium.

Most recently, the council conducted a work session in which it heard from representatives of law enforcement, youth services and social services. There are, indeed, social costs to marijuana legalization, and you can find competing experts to testify that cannabis does or does not lead to increases in crime, use of other drugs or impaired driving.

But Washington’s marijuana law is well-constructed to mitigate those costs as much as possible. Unlike Portland, where there seemingly is a marijuana shop on every corner and where there is enough cannabis in stock to meet demand for the next six years, Washington has placed effective controls on the industry.

Most important among those are efforts to prevent use by teenagers. Recreational marijuana purchases are allowed only for adults 21 and older, and there are regulations that keep businesses away from schools and that provide for educational programs about the drug. Notably, Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer, told councilors that — according to the Healthy Youth Survey — adolescent marijuana use in the county has not increased since legalization.

On the other hand, it also is notable that Sheriff Chuck Atkins does not support lifting the ban, and that law enforcement officials can provide anecdotal evidence of links between marijuana and crime or impaired driving.

These and other factors warrant consideration, but councilors must be cautious in weighing information regarding marijuana. With legalization being relatively new, it is difficult to draw statistical conclusions. It also is difficult to draw conclusions about the health impact of marijuana because national research has been limited for decades.

That could be viewed as an argument in favor of maintaining the moratorium. In truth, it is outweighed by the fact that other jurisdictions have effectively and responsibly allowed legalization of the drug.

Whether or not Clark County follows that path, residents are going to use marijuana. The county council should recognize this, and repeal the ban.

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