Citizens voice opinions on marijuana issue

City Council will discuss the issue at a future meeting

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The Camas City Council heard comments from both sides of the marijuana issue on Monday. It was another step in the information gathering process as the group of elected leaders works toward making a decision about whether to allow marijuana retail sales, processing and production facilities within city limits.

The city’s efforts are in response to Initiative-502, which was approved by voters in November 2012. It allows people 21 and older to possess and use recreational marijuana.

A zoning moratorium relating to the establishment of sales, processing and production facilities in Camas is currently in place.

The Liquor Control Board has allotted one retail marijuana license for Camas. A total of 15 are allowed in Clark County. There are no limits in state law on the number of marijuana producers or processors.

Mark Elkins, a 1991 WHS graduate and currently a mechanical engineer, is the owner of Elkgard Enterprises, 319 N.E. Lechner St. The business ranked first for Camas in the Liquor Control Board’s lottery for retail marijuana locations.

During the public hearing, Elkins said marijuana tax revenues would be distributed to the state’s general fund, and support programs that focus on health care and substance abuse treatment and prevention. He also said legalization will temper the current black market that exists for the drug.

“Marijuana should be taxed,” he said. “We are going to save a ton of money by taxing it. We are going to see less problems in our jails. We are going to see less dollars spent fighting it. We are going to take that money and put it back into creating substance abuse programs,” he said. “I believe overall, we are not making it go away from Camas. It’s already here. Let’s put it on the outskirts of town, tax it, and we’ll eventually get some benefit from it.”

Mayor Scott Higgins said I-502 rules do not currently allow for any portion of marijuana revenues to come directly to local jurisdictions.

“At this point, there is no local share of any revenue that is proposed under I-502,” he said. “Right now the state has it all, if there is any.”

Hearing that, Camas resident Tamme Davis said allowing a marijuana retail business in Camas isn’t worth it.

“That’s like a state-run liquor store,” she said. “We get no benefit from it. Why would we even consider letting the state run that in our city? It would be different if we could say we could give some of the profit to our schools, our students, or our community. What you are saying is we get none of the profits, so why would we do it?

John Bohannon, of Washougal, said the city should follow the state voters’ wishes and look at marijuana as a legitimate business.

“The state has legalized it. It’s not our job to figure out if we are going to allow it,” he said. “It’s our job to try to figure out how we are going to do it the best way, so that it does represent a positive role model going forward for our children and for other states looking to legalize it.”

Delores Hoyt, a 67-year Camas resident, said she is not in favor of opening a retail marijuana business in Camas.

“It would affect the community, especially our young people,” she said. “Our young people now have it hard enough standing up against some of the things that my kids didn’t have to face. Why would we want to put obstacles in their way? Young people don’t have the judgement. You put out something new in front of them, and they are going to try it.”

Ethan Elkins, a current Vancouver resident who grew up in Camas, asked the City Council to support I-502 and the business of marijuana in Camas.

“Nobody is advocating that youth get involved with what we all know can be a dangerous drug — much in the same way as alcohol or tobacco,” he said. “What we are talking about is the fact that this already exists. I grew up in this town, I played ball at Louis Bloch Park. My whole life I have been exposed to and aware of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol. It’s here. That is why the people of Washington State voted the way they did.”

Cindy Hostetler, a Camas resident who works in the social services field, said a local marijuana retailer would have negative impacts on education, law enforcement and social services systems.

“I would strongly question the city’s ability to actually regulate the marijuana sales without increasing the abuse within our community,” she said. “The increase in abuse as we all know would definitely negatively impact our law enforcement, because we would need additional, and definitely negatively impact our social services, including the welfare system and child welfare.”

Downtown Camas Association Executive Director Carrie Schulstad said the DCA surveyed downtown businesses, asking the question “Would you want to see a marijuana retail establishment in Downtown Camas?” She said 84 percent of the 25 respondents selected the option “No way, not at all.”

“From the Downtown Association, we are asking definitely not in downtown Camas,” Schulstad said. “Let’s keep our family friendly community just that. Drug purchasing and use anywhere is not the best role modeling for kids, and doesn’t lead to the strongest community we can be.”

Brian Wilde, dean of students at Camas High School, said the school’s administration is against locating a marijuana retail establishment in Camas, and is particularly opposed to it in the downtown core.

“The passage of I-502 has had a negative effect on the perception of marijuana use by minors,” he said. “Comprehensive state data on marijuana related offenses in school for the 2013-14 school year will not be released until summer, but it is expected that a rise in incidences across high schools, middle schools and elementaries will be observed. Our administrative team has seen a sharp increase in the number of marijuana related incidences in school this year. We believe there is a direct correlation between the passage of such legislation and an increase in student use of marijuana at school.”

Following the public hearing, Higgins said city staff will now work to compile information that has been received, and develop a list of several zoning options for city council to consider, with the goal of adopting a regulatory ordinance prior to the new moratorium’s expiration on Oct. 21.