Idahoans help Ontario’s first pot shop have booming business on opening day

Afton Cardosa wasn’t going to miss the opening of Ontario’s first pot shop. So much so, in fact, that she ended up in line three hours before doors actually opened.

Cardosa, who lives in Idaho, takes cannabis medicinally and recreationally, she told the Statesman. And though all forms of marijuana remain illegal in the Gem State, it’s no secret that a lion’s share of customers at the dispensaries in eastern Oregon — Huntington used to be the closest place to the Treasure Valley to buy products — come from the greater Treasure Valley.

The opening of Weedology, located at 591 East Idaho Avenue in Ontario just off of Interstate 84, means that a legal pot shop is now 30 minutes closer to the Boise area, and it was a big enough deal to Cardosa and many others that she was the first person in line at 7 a.m., which will be the normal starting hour of operation. But on Friday, because of inventory and other details, Weedology launched its business at 10 a.m.

That didn’t deter the customers, many of whom were Idahoans — there were countless vehicles in Weedology’s parking lot Friday that had Ada or Canyon county license plates.

“We’ve been trying to get it here in Ontario for a long time. It’s something that we’ve been wanting and pushing for, and they finally heard the people and let us have it,” Cardosa said. “It’s opening day. I didn’t know if there was going to be a party going on or long lines. First dispensary opening in Ontario, of course it’s going to be a long line.”

Indeed, the line for Weedology was steady and constant, at times winding around the building itself. There were still 30 people lined up outside the door at around 1 p.m. There was even a number system in place; customers got in line, received a ticket and waited for their number to be called.

At a little after 1 p.m., store general manager Eric Lantz estimated that nearly 200 customers had been served.

“We were kind of hoping for a softer opening, to get ourselves in order. But you know what? We are so excited to see this because we can step up,” Lantz said. “It’s everything we wanted this to be. We are ecstatic for where we’re at right now.”

Friday was a landmark day for Lantz, who finally saw the fruits of his labor realized following a few roadblocks, which included licensing, inspection and tracking of inventory.

Weedology, located in Ontario, Oregon, just over the Idaho state line, opened Friday. The store sells cannabis; many buyers are from the Treasure Valley, even though taking product back into Idaho is illegal. Michael Katz

It also marked a big moment for Idahoans, some of whom now have to travel less than 15 minutes to buy marijuana products, despite knowing full well that simply taking it back over state lines is illegal.

In Idaho, a misdemeanor charge of possession (less than 3 ounces) could get you a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, per previous Statesman reporting. Felony possession could get you five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

“If they’re coming from Idaho, we’re welcoming them in. What they do after that is on their time. But if they come in, we like to welcome anybody who is looking for the education or the knowledge that we’re starting to provide,” Lantz said. “This is the start for the future movement.”

Just last November, Ontario voters overturned a ban on marijuana sales, and 10 sites throughout the city have been approved as dispensaries. Weedology became the first to open.

Twenty-five employees work at the store, Lantz told the Statesman. The dispensary sells all sorts of marijuana products and paraphernalia. And it’s a cash-only operation, with a pair of ATMs inside.

“Budtenders” are behind the counter to answer any questions a customer might have, which is an important facet of having a dispensary. Teaching the safety and benefits of cannabis use is a key to destigmatization, Lantz said.

“We’re trying to break through that wall and continue this cannabis movement and be part of this positive movement that is gaining national strength,” he said. “At some point it will be nationally recognized as legal rec. I hope that’s where it’s going.”

Nearly every state bordering Idaho has some sort of legal marijuana industry. Washington, Nevada and Oregon have legal recreational and medicinal use, and Montana and Utah allow medicinal use only.

Payette County is as close as Idaho gets to Ontario, but Sheriff Chad Huff told the Statesman on Thursday that his office has no plans to change its current enforcement policies.

“We’re not going to do anything different. We’re just going to continue to enforce the Idaho statues,” Huff said. “I haven’t planned on putting anyone else on. ... It’s new to Ontario but not to Oregon. I’m not too worried about it.”

Legal sales of cannabis allow law enforcement to worry about other things, said Hunter Neubauer, the co-founder of Oregrown. Oregrown is a “farm-to-table” cannabis wholesaler and resaler whose products are being sold at Weedology.

“Cannabis crimes are a victimless crime,” Neubauer said. “It’s not something that the law enforcement should have to focus on, in my opinion.”

Neubauer played a role in getting cannabis legalized in Oregon back in 2014, serving as the chairman of a legislative committee for the Oregon Cannabis Association. When places such as Ontario begin approving sales, it shows a trend of acceptance, he said. And shops provide a safe way to buy all products, because they are tested and inspected before being sold at a distributor, he said.

“What we saw in Oregon is, very clearly, a majority of people wanted legalized cannabis,” he said. “I think that what we’re seeing across the country is a shift. You’re seeing a shift in people feeling comfortable and understanding what cannabis can do for people.”

Could having legalized marijuana in Ontario change anything in Idaho? Cardosa thinks it’s about time.

“We’re out of the old-school days,” she said. “It’s something that people use for medication and people use to help them. It’s not this big, bad thing that everyone makes it out to be.”

The group DrugFree Idaho would not agree. It created a billboard campaign to thwart what it views as attempts to “normalize the use of marijuana,” the Statesman reported in March.

Ontario could receive up to $600,000 to $1 million a year from the taxes on marijuana, according to Ontario Community Development Director Dan Cummings.

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Michael Katz covers breaking news at the Idaho Statesman. He attended the University of Southern California and grew up in Pasadena, California.