Business & economy

New marijuana shops signal pot economy in Ontario is still going strong

Jared Williams, general manager of Elevation 2150, a dispensary in Ontario, shows one of the products his business offers. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – The retail marijuana industry in Ontario is booming.

Three years after Ontario voters repealed a ban on marijuana sales, the industry continues to grow, delivering jobs and revenues to city coffers.

“There is still a lot of growth potential,” said Steve Meland, co-owner of Hotbox Farms marijuana dispensary in Ontario. His firm was among the first to open in town.

Ontario hosts eight marijuana dispensaries now and the city has approved the construction of nine more.

The newest dispensary in town, Elevation 2150, on Southwest 4th Avenue, opened in April and another retail marijuana business, ID Holdings is scheduled to open soon. ID Holdings at 1200 S.E. 1st St. is 1,831 square feet and about 20% complete, according to Dan Cummings, Ontario Community Development director.

ID Holdings will be the 13th marijuana facility to open in Ontario.

At first glance, 15 retail marijuana dispensaries for 11,000 people – the population of Ontario – may seem like an oversaturated market, but that’s not the case, said Meland.

“Hotbox has been able to maintain its position in the market and increase it. I think we will still see significant growth,” he said.

Hotbox, said Meland, also is expanding in Ontario. 

“We have four other sites in various stages of development,” he said.

Meland said there “won’t necessarily be five Hotbox stores.”

“We will own them, but we will brand them differently,” he said.

Meland said the goal for his company is to offer its product in a different and “unique way.”

Meland said the Hotbox way will revolve around the small, but important, elements to the business.

For example, he said, at a new, proposed Hotbox site near the Ontario Municipal Airport, marijuana will be grown and processed at the site.

“So more of a farm-to-consumer operation, giving a lot of insight to the consumer on how things are grown,” he said.

Another proposed site – behind Weedology, at 591 E. Idaho Ave. – will offer of a grocery-store style of marketing, he said.

“It’s more of an information for the consumer versus more of a deli style format now where we have big jars of cannabis and when a consumer orders, we grab one of the big jars and weigh the preferred amount,” said Meland. 

He said the key for retail marijuana merchants is to offer a variety of product and services.

“Any time you can offer a service in a unique way you can carve out a piece for yourself,” said Meland.

Elevation 2150 general manager Jared William said business at the shop is good.

“Things are picking up progressively week after week. Monthly numbers are definitely adding up to get where we want,” said Williams.

He said the online sales side of Elevation 2150’s business is also strong. He said the shop’s customer service and selection of product make a difference in terms of profitability.

“Especially being a new shop, a lot of people are caught off guard by the selection we carry We have one of the larger menus in town. We have new clients every week and month,” he said.

Williams said Elevation 2150 wants to be involved with the community in the future.

“We are not in it just to get stoned but here to help people,” he said.

Williams said while some marijuana products are the same at every dispensary, each shop has “their own little niche.”

“We all carry different brands,” he said.

Williams said Elevation 2150 doesn’t just offer marijuana leaf for consumption.

“A lot of people don’t understand the wellness products that come with it,” he said.

Williams said Elevation 2150 offers cannabis-based topical products, tinctures – marijuana herbal extracts – along with edible cannabis-based food. 

Meland said Ontario’s location at the edge of the Boise metro area, home to more than 700,000 people, fuels the industry.

“We look at is economics and demographics of a region and there is an awful lot of people within 50 to 100 miles of us,” said Meland.

The marijuana dispensary boom also helped the city in terms of tax revenues.

Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, said during the 2019-2020 fiscal year the city collected $1.82 million in marijuana tax revenue.

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year ending June 30 the city collected $3.01 million.

In 2020, Malheur County sales of retail marijuana crested at over $90 million, becoming the state’s per-capita cannabis sales leader for the year, according to the Oregon Business Journal.

In January 2021, for example, Ontario experienced $9.5 million sales. The city assesses a 3% sales tax on that revenue and the state collects a 17% tax. The state then allocates a specific percentage – 10% – back to cities based on a city’s population, not the amount of marijuana sold.

 Brown said the city used marijuana tax revenues on such items as street projects, playground equipment improvements, wayfinding signs and paid more than $2 million on Ontario’s Public Employees Retirement System debt.

Marijuana money was also used to renovate the bathrooms at Beck-Kiwanis Park and install fencing at the Ontario Municipal Airport.

“No doubt the city has benefited by their (dispensaries) presence financially,” said Brown.

Brown said the city refrained from using marijuana tax revenues to hire new employees.

“We don’t know the permanency of the marijuana money. There is no guarantee how many years it will be around,” said Brown.

That’s because if Idaho changed its law to allow marijuana retail sales, the local market could go into freefall.

Meland, though, believes the future is bright for the local retail marijuana industry.

“I think we will see the trend continue as we see cannabis become more mainstream,” said Meland.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Ontario’s first marijuana store opens this week

Ontario funds lobbyist to seek more pot taxes

New petition aims to allow cannabis production in Malheur County

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