Passion for cannibis prompts effort for Ontario ballot inititive

Ontario resident Jim Forrester believes marijuana dispensaries in Ontario should be legal and he is heading up a campaign to place an initiative on the November ballot so city voters can decide if he’s right. (Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – Jim Forrester is passionate about cannabis.

The 36-year-old Ontario resident, who holds a medical marijuana card, used cannabis for years to manage his Crohn’s disease.

And he doesn’t believe marijuana dispensaries in Ontario should be illegal. That is why he is preparing to launch a petition campaign to place an initiative on the November ballot that would allow local dispensaries.

The Ontario City Council banned the dispensaries in 2015, about a year and a half after state voters approved the recreational use of cannabis. Malheur County voters strongly opposed the state measure.

City leaders previously told the Malheur Enterprise that the council could repeal the ban but a public vote was needed to allow dispensaires in town.

However, further research by the Malheur Enterprise showed that local governments are free to repeal any ban and allow dispensaries without a public vote.

Forrester said the time is right to begin a repeal effort.

“With the sales tax issue being brought up in the city, I was trying to actively participate in the discussion and I noticed quite a bit of people were screaming cannabis and there was a way for us to make money,” said Forrester.

He said he was confused that city leaders weren’t pursing revenue from legal marijuana sales. The city could collect up to 3 percent tax on such sales.

“Why is this not an issue, especially when we are looking for revenue for the city?” said Forrester.

He said allowing dispensaries is the right move for a city searching for revenue. The idea has drawn active back-and-forth discussions on social media.

Dispensary supporters have been weighing in on discussions about the sales tax, pressing their view that taxing marijuana sales is a solution.

“It just makes sense,” said Forrester. “It is better to regulate it and tax it. It is not a solve-all but recreational marijuana is here, there is nothing we can do about so we might as well make money off of it,” said Forrester.

The city council could rescind its ban. If they don’t, voters can also decide the matter through a local ballot measure which is Forrester’s goal.

Forrester said his effort is still very much in its preliminary stage.

“I am willing and passionate about cannabis to take this up and get like-minded people together and formulate a more concise approach and get it on the November ballot,” said Forrester.

He said he doesn’t want to rush a petition.

“I don’t want this to be an effort that is thrown together. Once I get my ducks lined up with teammates and other people who want to help, that is when we will file the petition so we can collect signatures,” said Forrester.

He said a Facebook page dubbed Malheur Cannabis Action Network is up and he is working on creating a website.

“As far as an organization I haven’t got to the point where I am accepting donations,” said Forrester.

While Forrester’s effort is still in its infancy, he said there is already support.

“It’s been getting lots of momentum from local people, it seems like this is going places,” said Forrester.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.