Clark County residents use April 20, an unofficial pot holiday, to advocate against spread of availability

Some area residents fear lifting of the county’s marijuana moratorium if the makeup of the Clark County Council shifts in 2019

CLARK COUNTY — In the culture surrounding cannabis, April 20 is something of a holiday, a code-term for a date known as 4/20 that many pot enthusiasts use to celebrate and encourage the consumption of marijuana and herald its perceived virtues.

For some Clark County residents, though, it’s a reminder of a troubling and growing acceptance of what they consider to be a dangerous drug in a state where voters went to the ballot box to make it legal in 2012.

Beyond that, they’re seeking to halt the spread of its legality in jurisdictions such as Clark County where the council in 2014 placed a moratorium on the sale and production of pot in line with a determination by the state Attorney General’s Office that cities and counties have a right to do so.

This image of an advertisement set to run in a pair of Washington newspapers was provided by Clark County resident Dan Duringer.
This image of an advertisement set to run in a pair of Washington newspapers was provided by Clark County resident Dan Duringer. Click to see larger.

Several opponents to the expansion of marijuana shops and growing facilities in Southwest Washington have come together with national organizations such as Parents Opposed to Pot this week to help fund newspaper advertisements in The Columbian and The Olympian, the newspaper of the state capitol, to be published around the time of the unofficial cannabis holiday.

“The highly potent marijuana of today is different from the 1990s,” the advertisement, provided to in advance of publication, reads. “Marijuana flower averages more than 20% THC in states that have commercialized it, and processed cannabis, dab/wax/shatter, up to 99.9% THC. Usage by kids and young adults has increased with retail marijuana sales. Marijuana is the number one substance found in Colorado suicides, ages 10 to 19 years old.”

The timing of the advertisement is about more than 4/20, supporters say, but also an opening salvo in a continuing battle to prevent the Clark County Council from lifting the ban in unincorporated areas of the county.

As reported by last month, the council as it currently stands lacks the votes to lift the moratorium, but that could change.

Former state lawmaker Jim Moeller has announced his intentions to run for the Clark County Council seat currently held by Jeanne Stewart, who hasn’t announced her intentions.

In interviews since his announcement, Moeller has stated his desire to vote for the lifting of the moratorium so Clark County can reap the tax revenue currently offered to jurisdictions that allow for the sale and production of marijuana.

His vote, pot opponents fear, will tip the scales and open up broad swaths of unincorporated Clark County to marijuana operations similar to what is currently legal in Vancouver, Battle Ground and other areas where leaders haven’t specifically banned it.

To folks like Dan Duringer, a Clark County man who has driven a school bus for more than 20 years and has a bachelor’s degree in human development from Washington State University, the local political landscape is concerning.

With the passage of the Home Rule Charter, the reshaped district currently represented by Stewart is viewed by many as being more liberal and, as such, more likely to elect Moeller or another Democrat in favor of pot legalization to the council in November, setting the stage for the lifting of the ban in early 2019.

Duringer notes that while the state as a whole voted to legalize marijuana, voters in Clark County were opposed to it. He thinks it’s important that the wishes of a majority of local voters be reflected in the policy enacted by the Clark County Council.

“Our strategy is education,” Duringer said. “We want to convince people that marijuana is a dangerous drug.”

His concerns as far as the threats posed by cannabis are numerous, but the first that came up in an interview with was its effects on families and, most importantly to him, children like those he shuttles to and from school each day.

Duringer says he worries about children being exposed to marijuana in homes, whether purposely or accidentally. Research, he notes, shows that the consumption of cannabis by children whose brains have not fully developed can cause some of the worst damage of all, lowering IQs and harming still-developing minds.

Then there’s the simple matter of the change in parenting that can come when adults decide to regularly use marijuana.

Traffic safety is another concern.

“It’s not just the user that’s put at risk for a traffic death. It endangers other people,” Duringer said, using pedestrians and fellow motorists as examples.

He realizes many might feel he and others are fighting a battle that has already been lost as more and more states make marijuana legal, but he maintains that for as long as the federal government considers marijuana a dangerous drug — and states and local jurisdictions follow suit — it’s an effort worth taking on.

He worries about “community norms” created by the presence of colorful marijuana storefronts popping up throughout the county and the message that sends to youth.

In that vein, the Healthy Youth Survey last year showed that 8th and 10th graders in Clark County were nearly twice as likely to see marijuana as less harmful than a decade before legalization, though the same survey found fewer youths in those grades to be using marijuana.

Duringer notes the latter issue is undetermined, as other research has pointed to an increase in teens using cannabis.

Duringer bristles at the comparison to alcohol, which some note is broadly available, poses health risks and creates more collateral damage to families and communities.

“Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t mean we need to extend problematic policy any further,” he said.

There are many additional reasons he advocates to limit the availability of marijuana in a state that considers it legal: Health, public safety and mental illness (more on that later) are just a few of his additional concerns.

It seems to link back to his affection for the children he shuttles to school, though, and the generations to follow.

While he understands many support pot legalization not because they enjoy consuming ii, but rather in a Libertarian effort to maximize individual rights, he thinks their message is lost when it comes at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of children and others.

“On a daily basis I see the problems that they deal with, their health, their emotional states,” he says of the children who ride his school bus. “I want to protect them.”

Mental Illness

Like Duringer, fellow Clark County resident Ann Donnelly spends time educating those who will listen on the dangers she sees arising from the consumption and use of marijuana.

As a Phd. and longtime advocate for the mentally ill, she’s currently on the boards for both the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington and Columbia River Mental Health Services, though she stresses that her views are her own and are not endorsed by either organization.

Easier access to marijuana poses many problems to the mentally ill, she says, from providing a dangerous avenue for self medication that interferes with treatment and limits employment possibilities to eliminating housing options and provoking, according to some research, a potential for an elevated risk of schizophrenia or complications rooted in the mental illness.

“Pot consumption interferes with the effectiveness of many of the antipsychotic medications that are an important part of recovery,” Donnelly said. “I learned this in our family when our loved one’s psychiatrist strongly recommended that he not smoke pot while taking his extremely important antipsychotic meds. We noticed a definite failure of his medication when combined with pot. So the result may be that thousands of dollars of medications may be wasted, and the patient may spiral downward in crisis.”

Further, she notes that some of the most promising and booming industries require applicants to pass a drug screening, something that would be made difficult by a reliance or addiction to marijuana for anyone, but especially those working to manage a mental illness.

“The mental health crisis is made more difficult by the easy availability of pot in our communities,” she said. “At the very least, this factor urges us to do whatever it takes to keep pot out of the hands of kids and the mentally ill.”

Donnelly shares Duringer’s mission to advocate against the spread of marijuana legality in local jurisdictions, noting a hearing in Washougal where they were joined by area youths who had the same view.

Ultimately, though, she thinks government bodies are more likely than any other to become addicted to marijuana, or rather the tax revenue it brings. If Clark County, for example, lifts its moratorium, she sees dim hope that leaders would ever reverse course with a funding mechanism already in place.

“Government is completely addicted to the money once it starts rolling in,” she said, noting the irony that many who rejected the potential benefits of employment and economic growth of an oil terminal are now quick to embrace the same possibilities in marijuana.

For Duringer’s part, he’s setting no deadline on his opposition to the spread of legal marijuana in Clark County communities. He and others intend to advocate for limiting the availability of cannabis whether the moratorium is lifted in 2019 or not.

“The consequences are not going to go away,” he said. “There’s always ways to advocate for change.”

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