Earlier this month, a majority of Clark County Council members voted to lift the ban which had prohibited the sale and processing of recreational marijuana in rural Clark County. It’s unfortunate Council Members Olson, Lentz and Blom ignored the cogent arguments made by proponents of the ban in favor of forecasted tax revenue estimated to be as high as a quarter-million dollars annually for the county. It remains to be seen if those are accurate numbers.
This issue is not really about money. It’s about allowing more access to a harmful substance that a majority of rural residents are not in favor of. Any review of county voting patterns demonstrate a clear difference in political ideologies between county residents in rural areas and their neighbors within city limits.
County residents are overwhelmingly conservative when it comes to issues of taxation and social issues including marijuana. Rural residents in Clark County made it clear they were not in favor of legalized marijuana when the initiative passed statewide in 2012. Their wishes were ignored by the majority of three on the County Council.
Rural residents live in the country because they do not desire city services. They draw water to live from private wells on their property and operate efficient septic systems to handle waste. Rural residents are, by their nature, more self-reliant than their urban counterparts. They often grow their own food, and in some cases choose to homeschool their children. They want local government to mostly leave them alone. And who can blame them for that?
The councilors should have kept the ban in place out of respect for the will of rural voters. With legalized grow operations and retail stores in Vancouver and Battle Ground, there was simply no need to expand this sector of business into areas of the county where it is not welcome.
I would expect Councilor Lentz to vote in favor of lifting the ban, as she represents the most politically liberal district on the council, including most of the City of Vancouver. But Olson erred by voting with Lentz, the lone Democrat. Olson represents a large swath of northwest Clark County which is predominantly a conservative, rural area. In doing so, Olson ignored the wishes of many voters in her district. Unfortunately, Councilor Blom nearly always votes in lockstep with Olson. In his previous career, Blom sold real estate and has been a staunch advocate for the popular Realtor “Quality of Life” campaign. As rural Clark County becomes the retail marijuana capital of Southwest Washington, there will be less quality of life for all residents. And he will only have himself to blame.
Within just a year after recreational marijuana became legal statewide, local sheriff deputies reported to me they were seeing more impaired drivers on our county roads from marijuana than alcohol. With their votes, councilors Lentz, Olson and Blom also ignored the dire warning signs from their own law enforcement professionals. With more access, councilors will continue to see an uptick in impaired driver arrests from pot and higher associated court costs. But the most significant cost will come in the form of more dysfunctional families. And, how do you put a price tag on that? All of these problems will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to address and any new anticipated revenue from the sale of legal pot will be quickly extinguished when all those costs are factored in.
Liz Pike is a retired Washington State Representative who served three terms, from 2012 to 2018. Today she operates Shangri-La Farm, a small-scale organic farm in Fern Prairie outside of Camas with her husband Neil and also teaches oil painting classes. She can be reached at (360) 281-8720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.