MalheurCAN!, an Ontario pro-marijuana group, turned in 1,860 petition signatures Monday to place an initiative on the November ballot to lift the city's ban on recreational marijuana sales. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – The local group leading the push to lift a ban on recreational marijuana sales took a big step forward earlier this week when it turned in signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot.

Tori Barnett, Ontario city recorder, said that MalheurCAN!, a pro-marijuana group created by resident Jim Forrester, handed in 1,860 signatures Monday. MalheurCAN! needs 825 signatures of registered voters to get its measure on the ballot.

Barnett said the Malheur County Clerk’s Office has 15 days to verify the signatures – a task that must be completed by Tuesday, Aug. 7.

If enough are verified, the signatures go to the Ontario City Council for approval. The council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 7, to consider the petitions.

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

Meanwhile, county resident Stormy Ray is collecting signatures to lift the county’s embargo of recreational marijuana sales. Ray has until Wednesday, Aug. 8, to collect at least 453 signatures and submit them for verification. Her initiative would open the door for marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of Malheur County.

A third effort to lift a ban on marijuana sales in Ontario, led by Portland resident Jeremy Archie, appears to be in limbo. Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, said Friday that Archie is waiting to see what happens with the MalheurCAN! initiative. Brown said Archie plans to get a repeal effort on the ballot in November 2019 if the MalheurCAN! Measure fails.

In November 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 council voted to ban dispensaries. 

Legalized marijuana became a hotly-debated issue during the city’s 1 percent sales tax campaign. Many believed the city could solve some of its financial problems through tax revenue from marijuana dispensaries.

 

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