‘Baffling’ pot vote wasn’t unanimous

Pierce County Council member Rick Talbert
Pierce County Council member Rick Talbert

Re: “Pierce Council baffles with pot decisions” (Matt Driscoll column, 12-20).

The column’s headline made it sound as if the decision was not only baffling, it was unanimous. Let us assure you, it was not.

The Pierce County Council did agree to remove the ban on marijuana sales in the unincorporated areas of Pierce County. The final vote was four to three. We were on the winning side. That action, however, was preceded by an amendment to hold an advisory election asking voters who have already approved the sale of marijuana if they want to approve it again.

That vote was also four to three. This time, we were on the losing side.

As the columnist reported, it was a baffling decision. We just don’t understand how some council members staunchly support the will of the people, except when it doesn’t fit their personal agendas.

We do understand the impacts of marijuana, especially on our youth. Research shows that people use and/or abuse substances for a variety of reasons. One of them is lack of regulations. When none are in place, it leads to a perception of anything goes.

The citizens of our state approved the recreational use of marijuana in 2012. It passed in every Pierce County Council district. We believe it’s our responsibility to be responsive to the people of our county – all of our county. That means a well-regulated system that follows state law and protects our communities.

In 2013, the majority on the council voted to not implement regulations, waiting, instead, for the federal government to legalize marijuana. Since then, Pierce County has seen a proliferation of “pot shops,” green cross dispensaries, grow operations and an active black market.

It’s the result of not having regulations that limit the type, number and location of marijuana businesses. Further, it has tied the hands of law enforcement and our Planning and Land Use Department that has oversight of zoning and permitting.

On Dec. 15, the County Council voted to eliminate the requirement that sellers prove the sale of marijuana is not a crime under the Federal Controlled Substance Act. New regulations were also put in place, with a few “buts.”

For example, there will be regulations, but citizens will vote again on the legalization of marijuana. Remember, this issue was already overwhelmingly approved.

Citizens will vote again, but only in unincorporated Pierce County. Although the council represents all of the county, the council majority decided to ignore the views of nearly half of our citizens. Some people will vote, but the vote is only advisory – nothing but an expensive poll with no requirement that the outcome be followed.

The election will cost taxpayers approximately $425,000. Pierce County could hire four more sheriff’s deputies for that amount.

Without a well-regulated system, we will continue to see illegal shops, storefronts and grow operations. That’s true with or without an expensive election voted on by less than half the people in the county. It is truly baffling.

Connie Ladenburg of Tacoma, a former state legislator, represents District 4 on the Pierce County Council. Rick Talbert of Tacoma represents District 5.