Ontario marijuana dispensaries now promote social distancing with curbside service

Posted at 11:19 AM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 13:19:46-04

ONTARIO, Oregon — This article was originally written by Ximena Bustillo with the Idaho Statesman.

You can now get marijuana at the dispensaries in Ontario, Oregon, without ever leaving your car.

The Ontario City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to give the city’s three marijuana dispensaries the option to offer curbside service. It’s part of an effort to maintain social distancing of 6 feet among customers and limit interaction amid the coronavirus outbreak, and follows the same steps taken by other Oregon cities, such as Portland.

There seemed to be a drive to close the pot shops, including an emergency council meeting that was originally scheduled for Monday night. Instead, at Tuesday night’s regular meeting, a presentation from City Manager Adam Brown made clear that there was no legal authority for the council to take such a step.

Idaho and the Boise area were a big topic at the meeting, with council members arguing about the benefits to businesses from travelers while also noting that such travel can hasten the spread of the virus.

"I am of the mindset that the governor has the ultimate right ... to make rules and regulations and all this stuff,” said Ontario Councilman Norm Crume. “Everybody keeps talking about the Idaho people. This town lives and dies on Idaho people. We sure as heck can’t have and should not have a blockade out there on the bridges. ... I am not going to sit here and tell one type of business that they can operate or can’t.”

The curbside service will allow customers to conduct purchases and pick up orders in the dispensary parking lots. Councilman Freddy Rodriguez, the lone no vote, said that as he understood it, it would be like “going to Sonic.” Rodriguez wore a mask and gloves throughout the meeting.

Crume advocated leaving the decision to close businesses to Gov. Kate Brown and said the city should give stores the right to have a chance to comply with new state regulations regarding COVID-19.

The council also passed, by a 6-1 vote, a motion to authorize the city manager to issue warnings and suspend or revoke the business license of any marijuana dispensary that violates the social distancing and other requirements in Brown’s recent order.

Shawn McKay, a co-owner of Burnt River Farms, spoke to the council about the measures that shop owners — Weedology and Hotbox Farms are the other two dispensaries — are taking to reduce physical contact, including encouraging online ordering for easy pickup, banning the smelling of products, placing tape on floors at 6-foot intervals and having workers wear gloves.

“A large majority use this as medicine. We are one of the few businesses left open in the state,” McKay said.

Both McKay and Ontario resident Byron Shock, who was one of the organizers of the petition to legalize marijuana in Malheur County, argued that keeping the shops open is a necessity.

“We just got rules as of Sunday or Monday. With the new guidelines from the state, I would like a chance to implement that,” said Gus Young, another co-owner of Burnt River.

Other shop owners explained that any sick employee or customer is not allowed in, and said they are following all state and Center for Disease Control’s guidelines.

“We’re doing everything that we can in as timely a manner as possible,” said Tyrell Erlebach, who owns Weedology with his wife.