Camas City Council bans retail marijuana sales

Public hearing draws a large crowd

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The Camas City Council voted Monday to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana within city limits.

The 5-2 decision came following nearly two hours of public testimony reflecting both sides of the issue. City council members Don Chaney, Greg Anderson, Steve Hogan, Tim Hazen and Bonnie Carter voted for the ban, while Shannon Turk and Melissa Smith voted against.

Chaney indicated that he strongly opposes allowing retail marijuana sales in Camas.

“Tonight, the question before us is whether or not we should allow retail sales of marijuana,” he said. “It’s not about the use or possession of marijuana, at least as far as I’m concerned. And, it’s not about the personal qualities or business opportunities of the proponents. That’s not an issue here for me. The issue is, what’s it going to do to our community, and how does the fact that we do or do not [allow retail marijuana businesses] reflect the culture of our community? We get to steer that a little bit because of decisions before us.”

Smith said many people are not fully educated about marijuana, which has led to what she described as a stigma surrounding it. She researched the drug herself after receiving a doctor’s prescription for it several years ago, for pain.

“It will be a novelty at first for some, but as more people are aware of it I think it will de-stigmatize it,” she said. “And, we do need to get rid of the black market.”

According to Turk, the statistics she has seen do not support the idea that the legalization of marijuana has led to significant problems in local schools when it comes to student misbehavior or increase in use by youth.

“I’m an analyst by profession. I am trying to make sense of the numbers and what we’re seeing,” she said. “I am not concerned about my children smoking marijuana more if there is a retail establishment.”

A moratorium on the retail sale of marijuana in Camas has been in place since October 2014, when an ordinance was passed by the City Council. That action had a sunset clause that would have expired Nov. 30. The moratorium was implemented to provide time for some of the issues surrounding legalized marijuana to be addressed by the state legislature.

On Monday, the council chamber at City Hall was packed with people and the standing-room-only crowd spilled out into the lobby.

John Sentesy said marijuana retailer shops do not fit in with Camas’ reputation as a city that values quality schools and family oriented activities such as Camas Days, a farmers market and historic downtown mall.

“The image of Camas will definitely be tarnished, and the message we send our kids will be negative, if we allow marijuana to be legally sold in Camas,” he said. “We are not Vancouver, we are not Washougal, we are not other communities. We are Camas and we are a very special place to live. It may be legal to sell marijuana in the state of Washington, but it certainly isn’t right for Camas.”

Camas High School Dean of Students Brian Wilde said the legalization of marijuana has had a negative impact on youth.

“In the first year of legal recreational marijuana we, like many other districts in the state of Washington, have seen an increase in both the presence of marijuana, students under its influence, and innovative delivery systems — or the way in which marijuana is being consumed,” he said. “We’ve also observed a greater number of younger students being involved in incidents with marijuana. Additionally, we have seen a greater number of students and families seeking inpatient treatment for substance abuse, which is interrupting their learning and graduation plans.”

Matthew Overton, a medical marijuana card holder and father of four, said he supports allowing retail marijuana establishments in Camas. He believes parents should take charge when it comes to educating their kids about drugs.

“There have always been drugs,” he said. “It is not the community’s responsibility to keep children away from drugs. It’s parents’ responsibility to keep their children away from drugs, and inform their children how to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.”

Tim Hein, a Camas planning commissioner, said legalizing the retail sale of marijuana condones the use of the drug and sends the wrong message.

“There are a lot of ways to make money; there are a lot of ways to bring in revenue,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about how we do that. I also think that supporting this is inconsistent with the intent of the city of Camas. It’s why I’m not in support of it.”

On Sept. 15, the Camas Planning Commission voted 3-2 to forward a recommendation to the City Council supporting the establishment of retail marijuana sales in certain zoning districts. Hein was unable to attend that meeting. If he had been there, he said he would have voted against it.

John Spencer, a management consultant, was involved in efforts to establish a marijuana retail store in Skamania County, owned and operated by the City of North Bonneville. He said that rural city has not seen any negative impacts in the areas of criminal activity and emergency services.

“As other people have said, it’s already out there whether you choose to allow it here or not,” he said. “It will have no difference in the consumption rate in the city. It’s really a matter of which pro are you going to shoot for — the pro kids’ safety or the pro business? What I want to make sure you understand is allowing a store in your community is not going to be Armageddon. You will not notice a significant difference.”

Prior to Monday’s decision Marc Elkins, owner of Elkgard Enterprises, had planned to open a marijuana retail business in Camas at 319 N.E. Lechner St., a location he had been renting for 1.5 years. Elkins was selected in a Liquor Control Board lottery in 2014 to receive the one available retail marijuana license in Camas city limits.

The City Council already approved rules in October 2014 that prohibit marijuana growing and processing within city limits.

Recreational marijuana was decriminalized with the passage of Initiative-502 in November 2012.

In January 2014, the state Attorney General’s Office issued a formal opinion concluding that I-502 does not does not preempt local jurisdictions from regulating marijuana selling, processing and growing within its boundaries.

In Washougal, there is currently a ban on the retail sale, processing and production of retail marijuana within the city limits that has a sunset date of Sept. 1, 2016.