Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
The Clark County council has, indeed, sent the wrong message. But it is not the one that council Chair Marc Boldt feared.
In deciding last week to not consider allowing marijuana businesses, Boldt said, “I just thought it was sending the wrong message, so I thought I wouldn’t support it.” Instead, councilors have sent a message that the black market for marijuana will be allowed to thrive in unincorporated portions of the county; that there will be no checks on underage use in those areas; that the county will eschew tax revenue from marijuana; and that councilors would rather cling to outdated tropes about the drug rather than having a robust discussion.
In declining to consider the issue, Boldt and Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Eileen Quiring have indicated that they have no interest in informed discussion on the issue. Fellow Councilors Julie Olson and John Blom were willing to discuss the matter without committing to one side or the other, but Boldt declined to open debate.
And there is much room for debate. When Washington voters legalized cannabis use for adults in 2012, Clark County opposed the measure with 50.32 percent of the vote. Since then, Vancouver and Battle Ground have approved marijuana businesses, while Clark County has imposed a moratorium.
Following the majority view of local voters — albeit a slim majority six years ago — is understandable, but it is time for the county to reopen the discussion. Nationally, support for legalized marijuana in 2012 was about 50 percent, a number that had grown to 61 percent by 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, contrary to proclamations from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there has been no discernible increase in crime in areas that have legalized the drug.
Another criticism of legalization also crumbles under scrutiny. Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer, told councilors last year that, “Since before and after retail (cannabis) became available in Clark County, youth risk has not increased.” According to the Healthy Youth Survey, 15.6 percent of local teens reported using marijuana within the previous 30 days in 2016, as opposed to 19.5 percent prior to legalization in 2012.
The fact is a county moratorium on marijuana does not prevent its growth or use. It simply forces that use underground instead of bringing it into the open in a well-regulated system. Approved marijuana retailers are required to ensure that customers are at least 21 years old; it is unlikely that the dealer selling homegrown cannabis in the local park is going to require ID or refuse to sell to minors. Meanwhile, legalization provided the city of Vancouver with about $1.3 million in tax revenue in fiscal 2016 and 2017, while Clark County reaped $0.
There are, indeed, drawbacks to marijuana, such as an increase in cannabis-related car crashes in Washington since recreational use was approved. There also is strong evidence that the drug is particularly harmful to teenagers, whose brains are still developing, but that points out the need for regulation that can reduce the influence of the black market.
Meanwhile, Quiring deserves jeers for saying, “We don’t need any more dumbing down” when asked about her opposition to legalized marijuana. If that were a pressing concern, we would seek a prohibition on alcohol. But we know how that worked out last time.
Instead, Clark County councilors should be willing to listen to evidence and consider facts rather than sending the wrong message.