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Marijuana on the border? November initiative seeks to legalize pot in Ontario, Oregon

420Ville, a marijuana dispensary, sits on Washington Street, the main street running through the small eastern Oregon town of Huntington. Voters in Ontario could decide in November whether to allow recreational marijuana sales at similar dispensaries in the border town, 30 miles closer to Idaho’s population center.
420Ville, a marijuana dispensary, sits on Washington Street, the main street running through the small eastern Oregon town of Huntington. Voters in Ontario could decide in November whether to allow recreational marijuana sales at similar dispensaries in the border town, 30 miles closer to Idaho’s population center. Statesman file

Citizens in Ontario, Oregon, are collecting signatures for an initiative aimed at allowing the sale and use of recreational marijuana and licensed dispensaries.

The group pushing the initiative, MalheurCAN, thinks that recreational pot could ease some of Ontario’s financial woes. The initiative proposes a 3 percent sales tax on marijuana that would go the city. Money raised could help reverse layoffs in city staff.

“The marijuana is estimated to bring in between $450,000 and $750,000,” Ron Verini, mayor of Ontario, told Boise State Public Radio’s Matt Guilhem.

According to the ArgusObserver, MalheurCAN will need to collect 825 signatures by Aug. 7 to put the initiative on the ballot in November.

This influx of revenue for the city wouldn’t come without issues, says Verini. “Anything new for a community, there’s going to be changes, there’s going to be unintended consequences,” he said.

Oregon voters approved the sale of recreational marijuana in 2014, but like many other communities in eastern Oregon, the city of Ontario refused to allow it in town. That resistance is slowly easing, Verini said.

Thirty miles to the northeast, Huntington, Oregon, decided in late 2015 to authorize marijuana sales in town. That gave the sleepy town bypassed by Interstate 84 near the Snake River a nearly immediate boost. “Green gold” brought new stores and other businesses and new customers — including people from Idaho — to town.

But Ontario, right on the border, is a lot closer to Idaho’s population center in the Treasure Valley than is Huntington. Ontario is 30 miles from Caldwell and about an hour from Boise.

If advocates are successful in getting recreational marijuana sales allowed in Ontario, Verini expects that it will create an inflow of people from Idaho looking to partake in this new recreational activity, increasing traffic and possibly crime.

“But all in all,” he said, “if the citizens actually vote on it and approve it, it’s something that we will adjust to over time.”

One major question is how this could affect Ontario’s neighbors in Idaho, where marijuana is illegal. Verini said he is concerned about the challenges associated with people coming into his community, purchasing marijuana, and taking it back into Idaho.

There are no definitive plans on how exactly to address the Idaho issue, Verini said, and city officials will cross those bridges if and when the people vote for legalization.

He is, however, clearly thinking about being respectful to those just across the border.

“They’re our neighbors. Wouldn’t you be concerned about your neighbors?”

Kevin Davenport contributed: 208-377-6411, @tropnevaDniveK.
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