ONTARIO – It turns out the Ontario City Council doesn’t need voter approval to authorize marijuana dispensaries in town.

According to Scott Winkels, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, the council could repeal its existing ordinance that bans marijuana dispensaries to allow the facilities in town. No public vote would be needed.

Previously, city officials told the Malheur Enterprise that the council could repeal the ban but only a public vote would pave the way for dispensaries to open and be taxed.

Winkels said that was based on an earlier version of Oregon law mandating the public vote. Last year, the Legislature revised the law to strip out that requirement, leaving local governments free to repeal any ban and permit dispensaries to open.

That revision states that “the governing body of the city or county may amend the ordinance, without referring the amendment to the electors of the city or county.”

Norm Crume, Ontario council president, said the change was news to him.

“I had no clue. Last I was told it was up to the people to make the change,” said Crume.

Marijuana dispensaries in Ontario has become a hotly debated issue lately. Supporters assert that taxing marijuana dispensaries could help the city bridge a $900,000 funding gap.

The city instituted a 1 percent sales tax last fall, but petitioners are asking voters in the May primary to repeal the tax.