Petitioners pursuing marijuana measures for Ontario

ONTARIO — Ontario voters could see two ballot initiatives this fall to legalize marijuana sales in the city.

Tori Barnett, Ontario city recorder, confirmed last week that she received proposed ballot measures from an Ontario group and a Washington state man. They submitted language for measures as a step to gathering signatures to put them on the ballot.

One proposal is from county residents Dave Eyler, Jahmel Cooke and Byron Shock. The man behind that effort, Ontario resident Jim Forrester, began to push for a legal marijuana dispensary ballot measure in April. Forrester, who is disabled by Crohn’s disease, created the marijuana group MalheurCAN and said he selected Eyler, Cooke and Shock to be the chief petitioners.

The other petition is by Spokane resident Tate Kapple.

Eyler, a former Vale High School teacher and football coach, said he supports legal marijuana dispensaries in Ontario because they would eliminate a flourishing black market.

“Whenever you prohibit something, you create this black market. By Ontario not having dispensaries they created one of the biggest black markets in the state,” Eyler said.

“People say they want to keep it out of the hands of kids but you can’t do that if you have a black market.”

The two petitions seek to rescind the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries but differ in two significant areas. Kapple is the owner of Cannabis & Glass, which sells more than 200 strains of recreational marijuana at two Spokane locations. Kapple didn’t return calls seeking comment, but his business website said he started the business in 2014 and now employes 40.

Kapple’s petition doesn’t mention the 3 percent tax on marijuana sales the city could collect if dispensaries are legalized. Kapple’s proposal also stipulates only those who have been previously licensed as a marijuana dispensary for one year would be allowed to operate in Ontario.

Eyler, Cooke and Shock’s petition does include authority for the city to impose a 3 percent tax on marijuana sales but does not limit who can operate.

Barnett said she already verified all of the information in Kapple’s proposal is correct and forwarded it to city attorney Larry Sullivan. Sullivan, she said, will draft and file the ballot title with the county clerk. Then Kapple can move forward with collecting the required number of signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot.

Barnett said she must still verify Eyler, Cooke and Shock’s petition.

During the verification process, Barnett checks that each petition has a chief petitioner. She also checks to be sure the petition contains a document that outlines exactly what the petitioners wish to do. Each petition must also have a title.

Both petitioners must collect about 825 local signatures to place the issue on the November ballot. Each has until Aug. 8 to turn in all the paperwork, including signatures, to the Malheur County Clerk’s Office.

In November 2014, voters statewide approved a measure legalizing marijuana and opened the door for dispensaries.

Voters in Malheur County, however, opposed the measure by nearly 70 percent. In Ontario, the vote was 1,588-911 against marijuana sales. By law, counties and cities could continue prohibiting commercial sales of marijuana if at least 60 percent of county voters said no to the state measure.

A year after the state vote, the Ontario council voted to ban dispensaries.

The issue of legalized marijuana became a hotly-debated issue during the recent vote on the city’s 1 percent sales tax. A vocal number of voters contended the city could solve some of its financial problems through tax revenue from marijuana dispensaries.

The 1 percent sales tax proposal failed by a nearly 2-1 margin in May.