Can/should Battle Ground reverse its stance on marijuana sales?

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Last week, a fourth Washington state judge ruled that cities and counties can ban licensed marijuana businesses within their jurisdictions.

According to The Associated Press, the state Attorney General’s Office reported that Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Michael Evans issued his ruling Dec. 3 in a case brought against neighboring Clark County. The plaintiffs, Emerald Enterprises LLC and John M. Larson, had argued that Washington’s legal pot law did not leave room for such local bans. But the judge disagreed, joining judges in Benton, Chelan and Pierce counties.

The rulings comport with a legal analysis issued by Attorney General Bob Ferguson early this year, in which he said nothing in Washington’s legal pot law explicitly overruled local zoning authority. The plaintiffs in the Pierce County case have appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not announced whether it will accept it.

As we know, Clark County has a ban in place on marijuana businesses. The city of Ridgefield also has a ban in place. Woodland has banned marijuana retail sales but will allow grow and processing establishments on the west side of the railroad tracks. The city of La Center currently has a moratorium in place as council members sort through what they want to do with the issue.

That leaves Battle Ground as the current home of marijuana in North Clark County as the city has both a retail sales location and a processing facility in operation. The latest judge’s ruling raised the question, at least by some, what does that mean for Battle Ground and its marijuana businesses? The answer is, it doesn’t impact them at all.

“If you already have a business here, could you retroactively change that? The answer is no,’’ said Battle Ground City Manager John Williams.

Williams qualified his answer by pointing out he is not a legal expert, but he did offer his interpretation of the law, citing issues with adverse land use or adverse zoning as the reasons why a municipality would land itself in more than a little hot water if it tried to change the rules for a business already established.

“You would have to go by the date they submitted their (business) application and apply the rules that were in place on that day,’’ Williams said.

Battle Ground Mayor Shane Bowman echoed Williams’ interpretation of Battle Ground’s situation.

“As far as the retail location we have now, can you close it down?’’ Bowman asked rhetorically. “If we did that, I think there would be some legal ramifications.’’

Earlier this year, the members of the Battle Ground City Council discussed placing a moratorium on marijuana businesses. The vote was 3-3, with Adrian Cortes, Mike Dalesandro and Chris Regan voting against the moratorium. Council member Bill Ganley was absent. Had he been there, I believe the moratorium would have been approved 4-3. But, that’s old news. What I like to call “A target gone by.’’

“We haven’t talked about it since,’’ Bowman said. “We were always told that if we didn’t have the moratorium in place, we couldn’t stop anything. Essentially, you’re talking about putting up a fence after the cows are already gone.’’

I know many of you have a moral objection to legalization of marijuana. I was not in favor of it, but I have no such moral objection. I don’t use it and only know of a few people who do. Just as I’m unlikely to get into a moral discussion about marijuana, I’m even less likely to get into a scientific discussion. Some of you will disagree, but I think there is conflicting scientific evidence as to the effects of marijuana use.

I can only go by what I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I don’t see it as an evil, gateway drug. A friend of mine once stood up in a room full of National Basketball Association executives and said that the league was making a big mistake with its drug policy, which he said was driving NBA players away from marijuana and to alcohol. His premise was that alcohol was much more damaging than marijuana. I’m not a scientist, but what I’ve witnessed in my lifetime supports my friend’s claim.

That brings us back to Battle Ground’s retail establishment, Cannabis Country Store, which opened Nov. 3. Maybe a little more than a month isn’t enough of a sample size, but it’s all we’ve got at this time. And, all evidence indicates that Battle Ground is alive and well, in spite of the dreaded den of iniquity.

“The one retail (marijuana) place we have in Battle Ground is very well run,’’ said Battle Ground Chief of Police Bob Richardson, who toured the facility recently at the invitation of Cannabis Country Store owner Loren Carlson. “I took my lieutenant with me. It is much more regulated than a liquor store. It’s super regulated. There won’t be any shoplifters. ID’s are checked at the door. You’re not going to have any minors going in and doing a grab.’’

Richardson said he told Carlson what his biggest concerns were about the business.

“My concern is sales to juveniles and driving under the influence of marijuana,’’ Richardson said. “We haven’t had any calls or complaints about that establishment as far as I know. I think quite honestly they’re concerned about the concerns of the community and they want to operate a well-run business.’’

So, regardless of any further judge’s rulings, it appears marijuana is here to stay in Battle Ground.

“It’s a different mindset,’’ Richardson said. “The people voted this in and it’s what they want.’’

Ken Vance

Editor

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