The Ontario group MalheurCAN is now collecting signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot to lift a ban on retail marijuana sales in town. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – The effort to allow retail marijuana sales in Ontario is moving ahead as a local group starts collecting signatures to place the initiative before voters in November.

The Ontario endeavor is spearheaded by MalheurCAN, a pro-marijuana group created by resident Jim Forrester.

The chief petitioners of the Ontario proposal are Vale resident Dave Eyler along with Ontario residents Jahmel Cooke and Byron Shock.

Eyler said his group plans several events in the coming weeks to gather more signatures.

They need to collect 821 signatures of registered voters within Ontario.

“We have them (petitions) in several different businesses. We will be at things like Live After Five and at the fair,” said Eyler.

He said petitions are at Ontario businesses Doing Dirt Garden Supply, Old School Hand Blown Glass, The Happy Hippy, Towerhouse Coffee, The Vapor Place, New Visions, Winners Horseshoe Park, Tacos El Zarape and Four Seasons Garden Supply.

A petition also is at Hot Box Farms in Huntington.

Eyler said the group has scheduled a signing party starting at 4:20 p.m. Saturday at Towerhouse Coffee, 146 S.W. 4th Ave.

“We are hoping to get a lot of signatures then,” said Eyler.

He said his group is not going door-to-door seeking signatures, at least not yet.

“We will make that decision in the next couple of days if we need to do that,” said Eyler.

Meanwhile, two other petitions seeking to overturn marijuana bans – one for Ontario and one for the county – are still in the challenge stage.

Ontario City Recorder Tori Barnett said Monday that a proposed ballot measure by Portland resident Jeremy Archie remains in the challenge stage until 5 p.m. this Wednesday.

Anyone can contest the wording of the proposed measure.

Stormy Ray’s petition to lift the county’s embargo on retail marijuana sales is also in the challenge process.

The deadline on a challenge to Ray’s proposal is also this Wednesday.

Once the ballot language is set, petitioners then can take steps to collect signatures to put the measures on the November ballot.

In 2014, voters statewide approved a measure legalizing marijuana and opening 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 City Council voted to ban dispensaries.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.