Ontario’s Weedology has its certificate of occupancy. So why isn’t the pot shop open yet?

Weedology hopes to be the first dispensary open in Ontario, Oregon

After Ontario voters made recreational pot legal, Weedology is trying to be the first shop open. "Soon" is still all they can say.
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After Ontario voters made recreational pot legal, Weedology is trying to be the first shop open. "Soon" is still all they can say.

A 75-foot sign in Ontario beckons travelers on Interstate 84 to check out Weedology — but the doors of the new marijuana dispensary aren’t yet open to the public.

The building at 591 E. Idaho Ave., formerly a service station and used car dealership, has been renovated and furnished. Store management has been hired, and the business is advertising for “budtenders.” The city of Ontario gave Weedology its certificate of occupancy last week.

So why isn’t the pot shop open yet?

The short answer: A few regulatory hurdles are still left.

Weedology is waiting for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to do an inspection. Then it can apply for a city business license, according to Ontario Community Development Director Dan Cummings.

Weedology has stock on standby in Portland and Bend and expects to be able to fill the shelves within a day or two of getting the go-ahead from the state. But when that will be is anybody’s guess, possibly within a couple weeks.

Mark Pettinger, an OLCC spokesman, told the Statesman that the state of Oregon has two dozen marijuana dispensary inspectors who handle pre-opening and compliance inspections. The Ontario inspections will be done by someone coming from the Bend office.

Cummings and others thought the first shops would be open as soon as May — after voters removed a city ban on marijuana businesses in November. Weedology has become a big draw, even though it’s not open yet.

“One day when I was down there doing an inspection, about 30 or 40 people pulled in (to the parking lot),” Cummings said. Passing motorists honk and wave, and one woman walking by on foot last Friday blew a kiss.

Weedology hopes to be the first Ontario dispensary open since Malheur County lifted a city ban on marijuana businesses last November. Eric Lantz, general manager, left; Taylor Cook, public relations; Stephanie Lang, inventory specialist. Katherine Jones

Weedology calls itself “Ontario’s #1 Dispensary.” The business isn’t only aiming to be the best in town but the first to open, according to Eric Lantz, general manager for the shop.

“I think that is hugely important so we can establish an early clientele,” said Lantz, an Ontario native who has a background in sales but not in the marijuana industry.

So far, the city has received conditional-use permit applications for marijuana facilities at 13 sites. Ten of those have been approved for retail, and some have additional approvals for producing, processing, wholesale and/or laboratory.

Hotbox building will be giant vault

Hotbox Farms LLC, which runs a dispensary in Huntington and this year opened a CBD shop at 183 E. Idaho Ave. in Ontario, initially appeared to have the best chance at getting a dispensary open in Ontario. Hotbox Farms is renovating the old Oregon State Police building on Goodfellow Street, near Walmart and Home Depot.

But it’s a little behind because owners decided to put steel in the walls, ceiling and floor to make the building as secure as possible, according to Steven Meland, one of the owners of Hotbox. That also will make operations much more efficient.

Customers also want to know when they're opening their dispensary. The answer is: Maybe a couple of months. Although there's still Huntington.

Turning the building into a giant vault will save Hotbox significant man-hours because staff won’t have to move all the product off the showroom floor every night — and then haul it back out in the morning. The showroom will be twice as big as the one in Huntington, Meland said.

“We want to spend more time getting it right versus just rushing out and being the first one to market,” said Meland, who believes his will be the first dispensary in Oregon designed as a secure vault. Hotbox is still planning to open several other marijuana dispensaries in Ontario.

Why open multiple sites in the same city — isn’t that like competing with yourself? Yes, Meland said, but they’ll offer different product lines, and customers enjoy visiting different shops.

“We think there’s room for all of it,” he said. He hopes Hotbox’s first Ontario dispensary will be open before August.

Weedologist on staff

The owners of Weedology want the store’s niche to be education — learning customers’ needs, and helping them find the right products.

They plan to have at least one employee on staff with the job title of “weedologist.” That person will be focused on answering customer questions.

They’ll offer a full range of products, including loose flowers, tinctures, edibles, vape pens and shatter (a concentrate that’s smoked). Lantz, the store manager, expects the flowers and vape pens to be the biggest sellers.

“People really like the discreetness of the vape pens,” he said.

Weedology has huge, mirrored windows that allow natural light to bathe the showroom floor but prevent passersby from seeing inside. The lobby/reception area has comfortable chairs and lots of “W”-themed merchandise that customers can peruse, including hats and T-shirts.

The store showroom has eight ordering stations, with the goal of keeping customer lines short and moving fast. Lines are long on busy days at the two marijuana dispensaries in nearby Huntington — Hotbox and 420ville — the closest legal source for many in eastern Oregon and Southwest Idaho.

Lantz plans to hire 20 to 25 employees, or “budtenders,” to staff two shifts at Weedology seven days a week. The advertised pay range is $10 to $13 an hour, but promotions and pay increases are anticipated within a few months.

It’s an open secret that many Idahoans buy marijuana products in Huntington. Those who do that should keep in mind that there are some stiff penalties in Idaho: up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for those caught with less than 3 ounces.

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