To ban or not to ban pot shops

Written for The Argus Observer. Printed on March 22, 2015.

Ontario city officials are still deciding whether marijuana storefronts or dispensaries will be allowed in Ontario. For his part, Police Chief Mark Alexander would like to see them banned permanently.

He approached the City Council on the topic at its last meeting, directly after the Council heard from Aaron Varella, a Boise resident who will soon be relocating to Ontario and would like to open a recreational dispensary in the city.

“I’m here to let you know my plans,” Varella said. “I’m open to any constructive ideas on what to do as we move along.”

Using medical marijuana is legal in Oregon, and recreational marijuana will be legal July 1. The city of Ontario has extended its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries from May 1 to Aug. 1, but city officials have yet to address recreational dispensaries.

“I’d like to formally ask for the consideration of a ban,” Alexander said. “We just had public comments on this, but I’d like to see a ban of medical and recreational dispensaries.”

Alexander said his main concerns stem from Ontario being a border city.

“I’m concerned the dispensaries are going to create an attraction to people out of state, specifically Idaho,” Alexander said. “There’s really no other scenario like it in Oregon. Along the northern border, they’ve got Washington [where recreational marijuana] already has it legal.”

Alexander said Oregon’s southern border won’t be experiencing the same wave of marijuana users he expects in Ontario because of the lower population in that part of the state.

City councilors are divided on how to handle recreational marijuana.

“I’m not interested in a ban,” Councilor Charlotte Fugate said.

Councilors Tessa Winebarger and Thomas Jost, and Mayor Ron Verini agreed with Fugate.

Councilor Larry Tuttle was in favor of considering a complete and lasting ban on dispensaries. Councilors Norm Crume and Betty Carter were undecided.

“Maybe, it depends on what happens,” Crume said. “I’m on the fence.”

Because there wasn’t a consensus on the City Council, Alexander’s question will, for the time being, remain unanswered while the councilors contemplate the issue.

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