TD council hears marijuana concerns

The Dalles Police Chief Jay Waterbury makes an appeal Monday for the city council to ask voters to decide whether recreational pot should be grown, processed, packaged and sold in town. Listening to the request is Councilor Russ Brown, left and Gene Parker, city attorney.

This is the first of two stories related to the Jan. 25 town hall held by The Dalles City Council to gather citizen input on recreational marijuana sales in town. Tomorrow’s article will cover questions asked and answered about how the new law works:

The Dalles Police Chief Jay Waterbury appealed to the city council Monday to let voters decide whether recreational marijuana should be grown, processed, packaged and sold in town.

“What we are asking you to do is let citizens make a decision, give them a chance to vote,” he said following testimony at the meeting from citizens on both sides of the issue.

Waterbury said there had been a noticeable increase in marijuana use among juveniles after recreational pot was legalized in Washington and then in Oregon.

“I don’t see anything good coming from this for our community as far as the children who are going to be our future leaders,” he said.

In a follow-up interview, Waterbury said police records showed five juvenile arrests for unlawful possession of marijuana from Sept. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2013. He said that number jumped to 16 juveniles during the same time period in 2014, the year that pot sales began in Washington.

Pot has been sold in Oregon since last July and Waterbury said there were 22 arrests of juveniles for possession between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2015.

“Does everyone who uses marijuana end up on harder drugs, I don’t know,” said Waterbury. “But did everyone on harder drugs start with marijuana? Yes.”

Oregon State Police Lt. Pat Shortt was also present at the Jan. 25 town hall. He reported that his agency saw a “dramatic spike” in driving arrests involving controlled substances, which include marijuana, during the latter half of 2015.

After the meeting, Shortt explained what was happening within the jurisdiction of The Dalles Area Command, which covers five counties.

“What we’ve seen since legal marijuana sales began is that we have basically doubled the number of DUIs involving controlled substances,” he said.

The city council held Monday’s meeting to gather public input and provide information about evolving regulations for the marijuana industry since passage of Measure 91, which legalized recreational use of the drug, statewide in November 2014.

In The Dalles the measure was defeated by a margin of about 51 percent.

City officials are trying to decide whether to ask voters in November whether marijuana operations should be allowed in town. The council can also authorize pot businesses outright, although citizens could still refer the issue to voters.

The city can not unilaterally ban sales without referring the issue to voters, a move allowed in locations where M91 was defeated by a margin of 55 percent or more.

Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, was at the town hall to answer questions and provide information about new state guidelines.

He said if a ballot measure about pot sales is floated and defeated by voters, the city will not be eligible for a share of revenue from the state pot tax, which is now 25 percent but will eventually be reduced to 17 percent.

He said voters can also be asked to approve a local tax on pot sales of up to 3 percent. He said that issue could be put on the ballot at the same time as the question about whether sales should be allowed.

If Waterbury and Shortt were emphatic about their opinion regarding recreational pot sales, so were proponents of marijuana use. “I’m here today because I want to open a recreational shop in The Dalles,” said Luke Tanner, co-owner of Mountain View Naturals, a medical marijuana dispensary in Hood River. He said the city would gain greatly in revenue each year through pot sales.

His partner, Edward Sohler, told the council that legal sales of tested products would stop black market sales of pot grown in unregulated conditions.

“Our state has been at the forefront of doing things right,” said Sohler, addressing the rules being put in place to make packaging of edibles less attractive to children and limits on marketing to protect youth.

Jesse Brewer of The Dalles said marijuana was an alternative medicine that worked well for people with a variety of health issues, both physical and mental, who did not respond well to prescription drugs.

“If we keep going down that road, we are going to fail as a nation,” he said of the pharmaceutical industry.

Brewer also said legalizing pot would pare down criminal activity related to the black market.

“When you outlaw something it becomes a force of nature that people who are criminals are still going to make money on it,” he said.

He said alcohol and prescription drug abuse caused many more problems in society than marijuana use. “It is way worse. People don’t go crazy speeding down the road on pot, they do that on alcohol, they do that on prescription drugs,” he said.

Holly Morris, a medical marijuana grower in The Dalles, said her patients had better quality lives due to the beneficial health effects of cannabis strains that were grown to meet their individual needs.

“I do what I do to help other people,” she said. “I’m growing because doctors aren’t able to help them.”

Debby Jones, prevention specialist for YouthThink, backed up Waterbury’s stance that recreational pot sales would send the wrong message to children.

She reminded the council about the troubling message sent by a survey last fall of 425 middle school students. The majority of sixth, seventh and eighth graders stated the belief that 50 percent of adults got drunk once a week and 60 percent used marijuana.

“What I’m seeing in our youth is that they don’t believe in the adults anymore,” said Jones. “They think adults don’t know how to deal with stress —the perception is that when there’s a problem, they drink or get high.”

Jackie Williams, who spent 13 years as an addiction counselor for Mid-Columbia Center for Living, supported a request made by Karen Wilson, a local attorney, that the council conduct a risk/benefit analysis before making any decision.

Wilson said officials needed to consider a variety of facts, including that the concentration of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – THC – was less than 1 percent in 1972 but rose as high as 30

percent in today’s strains.

She said the more powerful drug increased the rate of addiction and statistics showed that one in six teens who used pot would become addicted. And 75 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions for youth ages 12 to 17 was due to marijuana abuse.

“Allowing pot to be grown, processed and sold in The Dalles will send a clear message to adolescents and young adults that it is a safe mind altering drug,” she said.

She said the primary argument in favor of local marijuana production, process and sales was that, if The Dalles does not allow these operations, people will go to Hood River, which does, and revenue will be lost.

“Let them drive to Hood River,” said Wilson. “We don’t want to be on the cutting edge of this learning curve.”

Mayor Steve Lawrence told the audience that the city council would consider the comments that had been made and decide on a direction at a regular meeting in the near future.

He said no date had been set but that meeting would be advertised.

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