Despite being legal in Oregon and Washington, cannabis businesses in unincorporated Clark County are banned. During a workshop session on Wednesday, the Clark County Council took the first step toward revisiting the issue.
The ban has been in place since 2014 and has kept the cannabis industry out of areas like Salmon Creek and Hazel Dell.
The council is revisiting the moratorium and heard from a panel that included public health officials, the sheriff’s office and other representatives from the county.
Recreational cannabis has been a lucrative business for the cities of Battle Ground and Vancouver, which do not fall under the ban. This year Vancouver is expected to bring in more than half a million dollars from cannabis sales, all of it going toward law enforcement efforts.
None of that money, however, is shared with the county.
“It’s really the conversation of do we let this linger, or do we address it one more time?” said Council Chair Marc Boldt.
According to an estimate shared with councilors at the meeting, Clark County has missed out on $468,538 in tax revenue from cannabis sales in 2016 and 2017. Some councilors argued it didn’t seem like enough money to warrant lifting the moratorium.
“It doesn’t seem to produce very much in the scheme of things,” said Councilor Eileen Quiring.
The moratorium has been frustrating for business owners who began applying for licenses in the area after recreational cannabis became legal in 2012.
Christy Stanley holds one of Clark County’s retail cannabis licenses, but her store remains vacant since her property lies in unincorporated Clark County.
“I really feel like I got stranded,” Stanley said. “It’s very frustrating when it’s state legal, but county illegal.”
Stanley estimates she’s lost at least $80,000 a year on overhead and startup costs. She also has a store in Kingston, Washington. The sales there allow her to hold on to the Clark County property.
The workshop included comments from local law enforcement, who voiced concerns over lifting the ban, saying that complaints have increased since the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Commander John Horch with the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force said a total of 33 cannabis-related complaints were reported from August 2015 to February 2016. He went on to say that since then, complaints continue to rise and have gone up by 49 percent.
If the county were to lift the ban, Boldt said they would use the revenue from cannabis sales for drug and alcohol treatment.
“It would help us with prevention and that could help us countywide,” Boldt said.
Boldt did not say which way he was leaning on the issue, but agreed that it is a divisive topic among councilors, most of whom expressed personal concerns about lifting the moratorium.
“It is an extremely tough issue,” Boldt added. “You wish you wouldn’t have to talk about it, but it’s in our backyard.”
The county council plans to hold a public hearing on the future of the moratorium in January.