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Washougal extends marijuana ban

The city of Washougal’s ban on producing, processing and the retail sale of marijuana will continue on forever.

Or at least until a future city council reverses the current council’s decision to permanently prohibit marijuana businesses.

At Monday’s special meeting, the council voted 5-2 in favor of an emergency ordinance to extend the ban that was put in place in 2012. The council called a special meeting for Monday because they couldn’t come to a decision on whether to extend the ban at last week’s meeting, and the ban was set to expire Sept. 1 if the council didn’t take action.

Councilors Dan Coursey, Paul Greenlee, Jennifer McDaniel, Dave Shoemaker and Michelle Wagner voted to extend the ban while Brett Boger and Joyce Lindsay voted against it.

The vote ended a lengthy discussion around the city on the positives and negatives of allowing marijuana-related businesses. At last week’s meeting, the council hosted a public hearing with around 25 speakers. The council also received many emails from residents on the issue.

“Between last week’s meeting and (Monday’s) meeting, the number of people here tells you how important this decision is for the community,” Mayor Sean Guard said.

The public had a chance to speak at Monday’s meeting during public comment, and again, residents were split. Some spoke about the dangers to youth by allowing marijuana, while others discussed how marijuana can benefit the city financially, as well as residents fighting illness.

At last week’s meeting, Boger proposed an amendment on the ordinance that would allow Washougal residents to take a non-binding advisory vote on the subject. Boger said he thought public perception of marijuana has changed since 2012.

“The city is pretty closely divided,” Boger said. “If we had a provision for a public vote, we could settle this once and for all.”

The biggest opponent of the advisory vote was Shoemaker.

“We don’t have a long term perspective yet on how making recreation pot legal will impact us locally,” Shoemaker said. “Why are we talking about an advisory vote? It’s time to take a stand.”

The council voted against setting a public advisory vote for April. The council voted with the same split, with only Boger and Lindsay in favor of the vote.

“I deal with a different crowd of people than what we’re hearing from (on Monday): the elderly, the people with diseases, the people fighting cancer, pain, Parkinson’s, (multiple sclerosis),” Lindsay said. “There are a slew of them looking for alternative ways to handle pain. I don’t think we’ve heard from them completely.”

Greenlee didn’t think setting the advisory vote for April was a good idea, and said a vote at that time would have half as much turnout as a vote in November, and a vote in November 2017 would get half as many people as a vote during a presidential year. He said it’s too late to get a measure on the ballot for November 2016.

“I don’t consider an April 2017 referendum to be anything other than a temporary survey,” Greenlee said.

Part of the reason the council couldn’t come to a decision at last week’s meeting was because McDaniel and Wagner weren’t in attendance.

McDaniel was present Monday, and Wagner called in to the meeting, saying it was an easy decision to vote for the ban after hearing from the public.

McDaniel said Washougal is building more parks and investing in the school district and that bringing in marijuana businesses doesn’t align with the direction many want the city to go in.

“Our city is changing for the better,” she said. “We’ve heard from many concerned citizens, as well as our school district, educators and clergy, saying that bringing businesses dealing in pot is sending the wrong message.”