To The Eagle:
Wahkiakum County should permit the legal cultivation of marijuana and do so without further delay. Clearly, interest groups – including law enforcement and teen health advocates – favor a permanent ban, though it is unclear how that outcome would lower teen exposure to marijuana given that it will be grown elsewhere in the state and sold legally to adults.
Two elements of the current debate concern me. First, opponents of cultivation are offering a one-sided analysis of the costs to our community. They say law enforcement would need to be bolstered, yet no explanation of why that is true is given, nor have they accounted for the cost savings they might expect once possession and use of marijuana is decriminalized. During my term as mayor, I was called to testify in a vandalism trial in which a minor teen was sent to juvenile jail based partly on a prosecution case that highlighted the fact that the accused once went by the Facebook name “Hookah Girl.” That case alone cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Legalization will reduce costs at the courthouse, cut the number of people incarcerated in our local jail and put marijuana on the level of alcohol in terms of the law. That is why voters in WA chose legalization. Does the new (taxpayer-funded) brewery at the marina increase law enforcement costs? I suspect not, and I question whether a few marijuana farms would do so either.
My second concern is economic. As Wahkiakum County delays its decision, other counties are moving ahead with legal cultivation. They, not us, will gain the first mover advantage, enjoy faster growth and build greater market share relative to their competitors. If we delay for too long, enough farming will occur elsewhere that growing marijuana won’t be the opportunity that it is today. We will have missed the boat.
Let’s not live under false illusions. Marijuana use in our county -- at our schools and in our homes -- is probably on par with (if not higher than) in the average West Coast city. Seattle and Portland are not filled with stoned out zombies, nor would Wahkiakum be after marijuana is cultivated locally.
A committee is not the answer. The county should get out of the way of legal commerce and allow farmers to move ahead with their plans. We need small, smart government. It is time for our three elected commissioners to show their commitment to that ideal.
George Wehrfritz, Cathlamet