The now-shuttered Sticky’s Pot Shop in Hazel Dell.

Clark County will soon be home to marijuana businesses as the county council voted 3-2 to lift a moratorium on the industry in unincorporated parts of the county last week. 

Clark County Council’s split vote during their July 2 meeting caps off months of work by council and staff on revisiting a ban on marijuana business that has been in place since 2014. Councilors Temple Lentz, Julie Olson and John Blom voted for lifting the moratorium while council chair Eileen Quiring and councilor Gary Medvigy voted to keep it in place. 

The Clark County Planning Commission had previously voted 3-2 with a recommendation to lift the moratorium in June. The changes to county code brought on by the lift allow production and processing facilities in forest and agriculture resource land and land zoned for business parks as well as retail in land zoned general commercial or community commercial. 

Those businesses will be restricted by their location near several different types of property, with 1,000-foot buffers required from elementary and secondary schools as well as public playgrounds. Council also voted in shorter buffers at 500 feet for retail businesses from child care centers, libraries, churches, transit centers,  recreational facilities, and substance use disorder treatment facilities. 

Retail businesses will be allowed to operate from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

The council remained split on whether or not to lift the moratorium, something Quiring acknowledged was emblematic of the opinions of county residents.

“There’s division on this council, and there’s division on the planning commission,” Quiring remarked. “Clearly there’s division in this county.”

Medvigy pointed to his more than 30 years in criminal justice as basis for his opposition to lifting the moratorium.

“This notion that it’s not a gateway drug is a false narrative,” Medvigy remarked. He said he had seen cases where he believed psychotic breaks were a result of using the drug, though he admitted no one knew what the exact cause of those breaks were given marijuana’s place on the federal schedule for drugs, preventing research with it.

Medvigy advocated for removing marijuana from Schedule I as a way to allow the research, though he wanted to keep the moratorium “until we know what we are dealing with” through those studies. He noted that in 2012 Clark County as a whole voted slightly against Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use, especially so in the more rural areas of the county including his own District 4. 

“We would be undoing the vote of Clark County; we would certainly be undoing the vote of 4th District if we were to lift this moratorium,” Medvigy remarked.

Lentz acknowledged some of the public who testified, individuals who talked about their own experiences with addiction.

“Addiction is difficult to say the very least, and you know that,” Lentz said. She noted that voters in her district were largely in support of legalization in the I-502 vote.

Olson noted she voted no on I-502, but in subsequent years had seen a number of perspectives on the issue.

Olson pointed to state reports that are required periodically, citing one finding that there was “no evidence that I-502 enactment on the whole affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions.” She added that compared to alcohol retailers, those selling marijuana products had higher compliance with refusing underage sales.

“Certainly no one here on this council is advocating for youth use or abuse of any substance,” Olson said, adding that revenues from the business could be used for youth prevention.

Quiring said that while there was a “very robust” public process in 2014 she felt there wasn’t enough outreach this time around. She felt that the costs for enforcing regulations on the businesses would “far, far exceed” the benefits from revenues.

“I fear that we’re putting the county in a precarious position, and I’m sad about it,” Quiring remarked.

The changes to county code go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

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