Voters will decide on marijuana ordinance that would allow dispensaries in Ontario, Oregon

Posted at 11:23 AM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 13:23:52-04

The Malheur Cannabis Action Network received enough signatures to push forward a new ordinance that could reverse a 2015 ban that prevents marijuana dispensaries from operating in Ontario, Oregon.

Enough signatures have been verified and on Tuesday night the city council will take action, the council has three choices they can send the ordinance as is on to the voters in November, they could also elect to rewrite the ordinance or they could adopt the ordinance, however, in that case, voters would still have to approve the three percent tax on dispensaries.

Either way, the citizens of Ontario will have a choice to make about their future of their city in November.

The City of Ontario has found itself in financial hardship, the city doesn't have enough money to adequately staff first responders, fix roads and they could lose their recreation department because of a lack of funding.

"We are a struggling community," said Mayor Ron Verini. "The marijuana initiative has it's positives, but it also comes with some baggage."

The question is would allowing pot dispensaries help solve the cities financial woes, the ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate while generating a three percent tax for the city, the Mayor said this would bring in $750,000 to one million dollars per year.

Ontario proposed a one percent sales tax to address funding, however voters rejected that, the Mayor said the sales tax would have brought in three to four million dollars a year.

“Because of that failure, it has left the city in a big hole in terms of finances and this would help in a big way," said Dave Eiler of MalheurCan! "You know just help the city become a better city.”

The Mayor said that allowing dispensaries would bring in a lot of people from outside Malheur County to Ontario, he said the added cost with needing to ramp up public safety initiatives would cost the city around $400,000 offsetting some of the economic gain.

MalheurCan! has reached their goal of getting enough signatures and from now until November they will work on an educational campaign to raise awareness about marijuana.

“Well I think they at least want to vote on it, I think that’s democracy at its best and I think people want that chance whether they are for it or against it," said Eiler. "But, most of the people we talk to are for it and I think they see the freedom of choice to do it if they want to do it and there's the economic opportunity here.”

This decision will also have an impact on Idaho as Ontario sits right on the border, it's easy to see that many cars with Idaho license plates park outside the dispensaries in Huntington, a city that has allowed dispensaries and sits thirty miles west of Ontario. 

The problem is that marijuana is legal in Ontario, it's up to each city to decide how to regulate cannabis, however in Idaho marijuana is illegal.

“We sit here as border town we want to be good neighbors," said Mayor Verini. "But because of the laws in our city and our state, we are really competing with the laws of Idaho and to be good neighbors we have to take that into consideration.”