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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Coalition puts pot on its agenda

Task force will ask Valley Council to limit access to marijuana

Shelly Clark and the Spokane Valley-based Coalition for Community Values have picked up a new cause: limit access to any kind of marijuana in Spokane Valley.

Clark successfully campaigned to ban topless baristas at Spokane Valley espresso stands last year. At a community meeting at CenterPlace on Nov. 13 there was no shortage of volunteers for her new task force, which will ask the Spokane Valley City Council to limit access to marijuana.

“I think we can all agree that we want to keep marijuana away from our kids,” Clark repeated throughout the meeting. “Kids can walk into a medical marijuana dispensary with a piece of paper and get marijuana. That’s not right.”

Medical marijuana must be prescribed by a doctor, and it may be prescribed to people of all ages.

Clark said she fears the oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries provided by the state Department of Health is not thorough enough, and that medical dispensaries make it much easier for people with no legitimate medical issue to access marijuana.

“Medical marijuana is less regulated than painkillers. That doesn’t make any sense,” Clark said.

Linda Thompson, executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council Prevention Center, presented the latest drug statistics collected from area youth. She said that 62 percent of youth in drug abuse treatment in 2012 are in treatment for marijuana abuse.

“It is often their first choice of drug,” Thompson said.

GSSAC is in the business of preventing drug abuse, Thompson said, and she added that awareness campaigns about the danger of tobacco really work.

“The problem is that now kids think it’s much more dangerous to smoke cigarettes than it is to use marijuana,” Thompson said.

Thompson reminded the group that drug prevention funding stemming from Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana, is not streaming to the community the way some people may think but managed by the state Department of Health.

“Prevention money goes to high need communities,” Thompson said, “in our case East Valley and West Central (in Spokane).”

Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven was at the meeting as well. He said that the legalization of marijuana has led to more arrests for driving under the influence and that marijuana growers are frequent targets of robberies and burglaries.

VanLeuven said that officers need a search warrant to do a blood test on a person they suspect of driving while high, and by the time the paperwork goes through the driver may no longer be intoxicated.

“Some new legislation may be needed,” VanLeuven said. “And there needs to be a clear division between medical marijuana and I-502 marijuana.”

Spokane Valley City Council member Ed Pace said he supports Clark’s initiative.

“We need a city that’s drug free and has zero tolerance for crime,” Pace said.

At Monday’s City Council meeting Pace once again brought up a complete ban on marijuana in Spokane Valley.

“I would like to look at what the cities of Fife and Wenatchee did,” Pace said, “and if it makes sense for us to put a moratorium on medical marijuana.”