(By Brandon Hansen/Managing Editor of the Chewelah Independent)
At the Chewelah City Council open forum last Wednesday, a large chunk of the conversation that dominated the forum focused on whether or not a pot shop should be allowed into town.
While the city’s head electrician, Chief of Police Mark Burrows, community members and some marijuana business owners spoke at the forum, what was particularly sparse during the long discussion were statistics and an examination of the issue.
Previously I had asked the City Council to bring in some experts and individuals that could bring some insight on the issue instead of just their opinion, and I hoped that the city could do more research on the issue. Understandably, there were no experts there at an open forum for the public which could have been about any issue. Somewhat less understandable was the only city leader that seemed to have done research was Mayor Dorothy Knauss — who gave the public information on the excise tax from pot sales.
People just admitted they didn’t have the statistics or information.
So, I’d like to use this column space to present some marijuana statistics so people can get more information on the issue. I’ll inject opinion in here or there, but my goal is to better inform.
Reported by the Tacoma News Tribune, the FBI crime statistics show lower rates of violent crime in Washington than before legalization (295.6 offenses per 100,000 in 2011 compared to 284.4 violent offenses per 100,000 people).
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Violent crime rates in 2015 are roughly half of what they were in 1993, so don’t believe someone when they say the world is going to heck!)
According to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey of more than 230,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students have shown that marijuana usage has remained the same for the past decade even after voters legalized it in 2012.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety (a state that has also legalized pot), arrests in Colorado of black and Latino youth for marijuana possession have increased 58 percent and 29 percent respectively after legalization. That same survey also found that white teens arrested for marijuana possession dropped ten percent. This is a complex issue and arrest statistics aren’t always the best usage indicators. As Keith Humphreys of Stanford University pointed out, there are more patrols in heavily-populated minority areas because they tend to have a lower income and therefore a higher crime rate.
EFFECTS ON YOUTH
One issue that worries me is children using the edible form of marijuana since it’s become more popular in treats and snacks. While an adult might realize after a half hour or so that something is funky about their rice krispy treat and lay off, a kid may not know. Small children may have to be hospitalized because of overconsumption. Short term effects from pot can include difficulty thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, loss of coordination and distorted perception.
It must be stated, however, no one has ever lethally overdosed from pot in the US.
Long-term effects is the scary stuff, because it’s an incomplete picture. We don’t know. According to the Colorado Children’s hospital there hasn’t been “the research and science findings to know the full effects.”
That said, there are a growing numbers of studies showing regular marijuana use could change the structure of the teenage brain in areas dealing with memory and problem solving. I’m taking this directly from an NPR story says Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Keep in mind new state laws also prohibit pot shops from using “kid friendly advertising” so Joey the Friendly Pot Plant isn’t going to be walking down Main Ave. anytime soon.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, traffic accidents increased by three percent in states that legalized in marijuana. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, there was no increase in vehicle crash fatalities.
Alcohol continues to be the biggest car-accident culprit. 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2015 in the US. It was estimated in 2014 that 2,880 died in accidents where marijuana was a factor.
As Dorothy Knauss pointed out at the open forum, the excise tax brought in $7,000 last year, has already collected $4,000 for the town this year but the state is restructuring the excise tax and Colville could get as little as a $1,600 a year from excise tax at current levels.
Sales tax from pot has brought Colville an additional $11,600 in revenue but the town does a lot of business. This is where stats fail us.
What would the sales in Chewelah be? Would the same pot shop out of town remain out there or move their operation in town? How many pot shops would come into town?
Pot sales have been steadily increasing as national legal sales grew to $5.4 billion, up from $4.6 billion in 2014.
I feel that the city council is being honest when saying this will not solve our budgeting woes. Let’s be way too optimistic and say Chewelah sells as much as Colville does, which with changed excise laws would be an extra $12,000 in the coffers. While a nice chunk, it wouldn’t even cover half of the repairs the city did on two streets because of winter heaving damage.
“IT’S ALREADY HERE.”
Here’s the tough thing to quantify statistically. I really don’t have a stat to illustrate this but if there is a shop just outside of town and many shops throughout the county it would be silly to think Chewelah is some sort of pot-free zone.
Growing up in Chewelah, I can tell you it wasn’t difficult to get even when it was illegal, not that I ever bought any. Even members on the city council have said “it’s already here.”
I think that perhaps the city is putting too much hand-wringing into an issue because their choice has very little impact on the access of marijuana. There’s no clothing store in town and everyone has clothes on. They really don’t have control over how marijuana gets into town. They merely have control over a section of city blocks that they draw tax money from. All they’re deciding on is the appearance of a shop in town, and numbers in their budget.
“IT’S ABOUT THE KIDS”
We learned about this in journalism school because anything and everything can be made an “It’s about the kids” issue.
Let’s say, for example, a new toy on the market kills three kids because they stick it in an electrical outlet. That’s horrible. This toy has killed kids. Release it to the media. Tell people to stop buying this toy and ban it.
However, cars, buckets of water, their own parents, improper use of booster seats and many more unexpected causes for youth fatalities happen at an exponentially bigger number. The difference is cars, buckets of water, parents, booster seats and other things are culturally accepted norms and risks.
It’s an emotional tool so people do need to understand that “it’s about the kids” can be used to tweak at their heartstrings. “It’s about the kids” could be used to do away with automobiles or TVs that tip over onto toddlers. Understand if this is brought up as a reason it should be qualified with statistics and studies along with more deep thought. Parading kids through a city council meeting is meant to elicit an emotional response, but it adds little to the governing function of the discussion.
MY OWN VIEW
It’s not my decision. It’s the city council’s decision and they’ve already decided to ban the sale of pot in town. I think we need to stop eating up a lot of these council members’ time if they’ve shown they don’t want to allow it.
Nothing really changes for the average pot user. Access to marijuana is just right out of town and throughout the county. They’re not banning use in the city. The only thing they are deciding is if they want that tax money in their budget or not.
My feeling would be let’s table this issue until our city government can do more research and we can see how trends are going statewide. It seems that this town is not ready for it and emotions are high. We had two council members yelling at local business people about the issue and I don’t think that’s the best optics to have in a town wanting more growth.
What would be disastrous for a business owner would be for a city council to barely pass a lift on the moratorium, have a pot shop move into town, have a city election and then a new council reinstates the moratorium.
The council might think they are affecting the access to marijuana — which also can be very helpful to a lot of people with a variety of ailments — but they really aren’t. As we’ve already said it’s readily available throughout the state and county. All they are deciding on are numbers coming into their budget. If they don’t want those numbers and don’t want the public backlash for having a pot shop in town then that’s fine. They would, however, be kidding themselves if they thought their decision on this sales ban actually kept pot out of town.
Maybe in the future we learn that legalization was a big mistake but right now there isn’t enough information to say with absolute certainty things are going to be a certain way.
I would like to point out, when there was the possibility of bringing in a silicone smelter plant to Addy, there would have been an environmental study and many other things done by the government. When it comes to allowing a pot shop in town, we need to stop having these knee-jerk reaction conversations and instead study these very, very, very complex issues.
My eye rolls could have powered the city’s electrical grid for the evening when the open forum became the pot forum. Not because I’m gung-ho about a pot shop but because the entire conversation went around in circles and no new information was brought to the table. Just feelings and emotions.
The time could have better been spent on other important community issues.