Editorial: ‘Left to our own devices …’

ClarkCountyToday.com, Editor Ken Vance

ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance comments on the decision by the Clark County Council to lift the moratorium on marijuana businesses in the county

Thankfully, my best assessment and reflection leads me to believe that marijuana has not had an impact on my life. With the exception of about a handful of times in my high school and college years, I’ve chosen not to use it. I’m likely a bit naive as to the true number, but to my knowledge, there are very few people I’m close to who use it.

I’m not a medical expert on marijuana or its effects on those who use it. So, because of my lack of personal experience with this particular controlled substance, and my lack of medical expertise, I don’t have a lot of anecdotal stories I can tell that have led me to form a strong opinion about it good or bad.

You’ve also read in this space before that I grew up in a household with a father who stressed to me that what goes on in my neighbor’s yard is none of my business and what goes in my yard is none of their business. Whether I would have felt that way on my own, without my father’s insistence I don’t know, but the premise is ingrained in my outlook on life. 

One of the personal qualities that I detest above most others is the practice of hypocrisy. So, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to profess to live and let others live on the majority of subjects but then want to intervene when it comes to marijuana.

Another thing you’ve read in this space many times before is that I believe in the will of the people. Few things in politics angers me more than when lawmakers ignore the (majority) will of the people to implement their own agenda above that of their constituents.

So, you see, I’m quite conflicted on the whole marijuana issue. Despite that, I was proud in May of 2014 when the then Clark County commissioners voted to place a moratorium on marijuana retail businesses. And thus, I wasn’t proud Tuesday night when the current county councilors voted 3-2 to lift that moratorium as of Jan. 1, 2020.

For the record, County Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Gary Medvigy voted against lifting the moratorium and councilors Julie Olson, John Blom and Temple Lentz voted in favor of lifting the ban.

Let me address the specific causes for my confliction.

Medical and societal impact of marijuana

Again, I don’t profess to be a medical expert on the benefits or negative impact experienced by marijuana users and I don’t have my own experience as well. Years ago, I shared a story that a friend of mine was once one of the top executives in the National Basketball Association. At one point, my friend stood up in a large meeting of NBA executives and officials and said the league was doing a huge disservice to its players because its drug policy banned the use of marijuana but didn’t address the usage of alcohol. He said, “we’re driving our players to alcohol instead of marijuana and it should be the other way around.’’

My friend said he was basically shunned and shouted down by his peers. Since then, almost every professional sports league is taking a serious look into the use of marijuana for pain tolerance and management in an attempt to address the serious problems athletes have with alcohol abuse and opioid addiction. 

The only anecdotal evidence I can share is that many years ago I once had a fellow employee who had severe anxiety and anger issues as well as a problem with alcohol use. I had spent many hours trying to support this person and at one point, he told me that he was considering marijuana use, instead of alcohol, as a way to deal with those issues. Because of my own experiences with others who have issues with alcohol and prescription drugs, I encouraged him to try that. He did, but it didn’t provide him any significant relief.

Will of the people

Prior to the Clark County Council’s vote Tuesday, Olson claimed that “our community has changed in the last seven years. Nationally, support for cannabis and marijuana legalization is at about 65 percent. It’s 72 percent among Democrats, 66 percent among independents, and 56 percent among Republicans in a recent CBS survey and poll.’’

I think all evidence supports Olson’s general premise that the nation’s general mood is becoming more and more tolerant of the legalization of marijuana. And, I’m sure she has more data at her fingertips than I do, but in 2012 voters in Clark County actually were opposed to Initiative Measure No. 502 — 50.32 percent to 49.68 percent. And, in much of the area covered by the county’s moratorium, voters were even more strongly opposed, such as District 4, which is largely conservative. Obviously, District 1 is largely liberal voters and that district’s representative (Lentz) said at Tuesday’s meeting that her district voted in 2012 to approve Initiative 502.

I will confess that I couldn’t find a breakdown of votes by each of the districts in the county and when I reached out to the Clark County Elections Department a staffer told me they didn’t have that information. The information is available for each of the 222 precincts in the county, but I’m going to refrain from taking the time (on the eve of a holiday in which I have too much on my plate already) to divide those 222 precincts up into the five county districts to tell me what we already know, which is: District 1 was in favor; District 4 was opposed; and, the other districts fell somewhere in between.

So, while I wouldn’t go to war with Olson over her assertion, there is evidence that the voice of Clark County voters in 2012 did express opposition to the legalization of marijuana, albeit a slight one.

But, I conceded that I would likely lose the debate over public sentiment to Olson’s assertion that the county is following the country’s trend in favor of allowing marijuana sales. Let me also say this, the problem with determining the outcome of every decision with the will of the people is this: left to our own devices for long enough, it would be like the reign of Caligula, or the biblical kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

I’m going to rely on the expert testimony

Because of the lack of my own empirical evidence, I’m going to defer to the most reliable testimony that I currently have at my fingertips. Ironically, it supports my long-time stand against the legalization of marijuana and, therefore, the decision by the Clark County Council Tuesday to lift the 2014 ban on marijuana businesses in the county.

Locally, the overturn of the ban comes against the advice of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Clark County Public Health department. (I can’t imagine any law enforcement official who would agree with the councilor’s decision.) Ignoring the advice of these folks is a significant mistake in my opinion.

I also did a simple search for the best arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana and the one that resonated with me the most was an article written by Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD, Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and published here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6179811/

Wilkinson broke down his assessment of the reasons why states should not legalize marijuana. I will share here a brief excerpt from his summary:

“Marijuana for recreational use will have many adverse health effects. The drug is addictive, with mounting evidence for the existence of a withdrawal syndrome. Furthermore, it has been shown to have adverse effects on mental health, intelligence (including irreversible declines in cognition), and the respiratory system. Driving while acutely intoxicated with marijuana greatly increases the risk of fatal motor vehicle collision. 

“Legalization for recreational use may have theoretical (but still unproven) beneficial social effects regarding issues such as domestic criminal justice policy, but these effects will not come without substantial public health and social costs. Currently there is a lack of resources devoted to educating physicians about this most commonly used illicit substance. The potential benefits and significant risks associated with marijuana use should be taught in medical schools and residency programs throughout the country.’’

I know those of you who disagree with my position have the ability to find many, many examples of folks who disagree with my position. That’s fine. You do you. You live your life in your yard the way you chose. This is what I chose.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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