Out-of-state money dominates Ontario’s pro-marijuana campaign

A Spokane merchant has spent more than $130,000 into the effort to lift the ban on recreational sales of cannabis in Ontario. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – A marijuana merchant from Spokane has poured more than $130,000 into the effort to repeal Ontario’s ban on recreational sales of cannabis, according to state campaign records.

The measure on the Nov. 6 ballot for Ontario voters would allow state-licensed marijuana dispensaries, recreational marijuana retailers, producers, processors and wholesalers in Ontario.

Tate Kapple operates a multi-million dollar Spokane marijuana business, Cannabis and Glass.

He initially moved earlier this year to put his own measure on Ontario’s ballot but dropped that in favor of a locally-organized petition drive. The chief petitioners were listed as Jahmel Cooke, Byron Shock and Dave Eyler, records show.

Kapple was the prime funder for MalheurCAN, which reported its biggest contribution was an in-kind donation of $30,000 last July from Kapple.

The contribution was disclosed a month late on Sept. 29, according to filings of the state Elections Division.

Kapple paid for signature gatherers to round up petition signatures for the measure, according to state filings.

MalheurCAN, political action committee, recently got a $1,000 in-kind contribution from a company called SNJ Online, a company operated by two Idaho men who run a major marijuana outlet in Huntington. The contribution was for “bookkeeping,” according to state filings.

MalheurCAN listed only two local cash donors, both from last summer. Eyler, of Vale, donated $200 and Tower House Coffee of Ontario contributed $570.

As of last week, the committee reported just $76.50 left in its treasury.

Asked about future efforts, Eyler said the political committee has no big events planned for the next two weeks.

“What we’re doing now is just trying to write letters to editors and making sure people are as informed as possible,” said Eyler.

He said for the last stretch of campaign season, MalheurCAN plans to distribute yard signs, talk to people, inform the public through its Facebook page and write letters to editors.

“I think one of the biggest issues is how marijuana is gonna affect the community in Ontario,” said Eyler. “I think part of our education is that marijuana is not something to be feared or to cause mayhem. But I think, at this point, the community is just waiting to see if it pans out.”

Another political action committee that is pushing a yes vote on the measure, Americanna, was organized by Steve Meland and Jeremy Breton.

They are owners of Hotbox Farms, which operates a marijuana outlet in Huntington. Meland also was chair of Ontario’s advisory committee that recommended zoning and other regulations for marijuana businesses should the city measure pass.

State election records show that Kapple has funded virtually the entire campaign.

He is listed as making an in-kind contribution of $49,250 last month for “literature, brochures, printing, postage” and another $50,000 in-kind contribution earlier this month for “voter contact.”

The records show Meland and Breton, through SNJ Online, made in-kind contributions of $3,033 in September for “fundraising event expenses” and “literature, brochures, printing” and gave $1,000 in cash.

The committee, which had $600 left in its treasury as of last week, reported no other donors.

Jahmel Cooke, one of the petitioners with MalheurCAN, said his PAC has no affiliation with Americanna’s activities. He said he feels Americanna tries to run under the guise of his PAC.

“Because everyone knows MalheurCAN as the local effort, but not Americanna,” said Cooke. “Americanna is known as the outsiders’ efforts. But I tried to make this local.”

Contacted Monday, Meland declined to comment.

Opposing the marijuana measure is No Pot Ontario, a political action committee that has raised $11,255 from 22 local donors, according to campaign finance records.

Among major Ontario donors listed were Reed Dame, chairman of Woodgrain Millwork of Fruitland, $3,000; Debbie DeLong, former Malheur County clerk, $2,000; Dennis Peterson, of Carter Farms, $2,000; and Doris Lindley, $1,000.

The committee also listed several contributions ranging from $200 to $500.

The committee reported $3,800 left in its treasury as of last week.

“Marijuana is a big business – they’re on the New York Stock Exchange. We have big money trying to buy our town,” said John Kirby, owner of Kinney Brothers and Keele True Value Hardware and a co-director of No Pot Ontario. “So, we have locals lining up to give their money to try prevent that from happening.”

Kirby said his committee is working on placing newspaper ads and mailing postcards.

According to state records, No Pot Ontario has reported expenses so far of $3,772.

“I’ve been able to feel and predict almost every election we’ve had in Ontario,” said Kirby. “For this one, I just don’t know.”

Kirby concedes that some people feel that his group has been promoting fear, but he said that wasn’t the intent.

Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.