No Pot Ontario, a political action committee formed in 2016 to elect anti-marijuana city counselors in Ontario, will soon kick off a campaign opposing the ballot measure to lift the city's ban on retail marijuana sales. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – A political action committee formed two years ago to elect anti-marijuana city councilors in Ontario is dusting off the cobwebs and preparing for another campaign.

No Pot Ontario, created in 2016, will soon kick off a campaign to derail a ballot initiative by MalheurCAN, a local pro-marijuana group. MalheurCAN learned last week its proposal to lift the ban on retail sales of pot in Ontario was going on the November ballot.

No Pot Ontario director John Kirby, a co-owner of Kinney Bros. & Keele True Value Hardware in Ontario, said his political committee opposes the ballot measure for two reasons.

“First of all, for the health and safety of our children and because of the social costs to our community,” said Kirby.

Kirby said No Pot Ontario plans to hold a strategy meeting Thursday at Four Rivers Cultural Center.

“We would welcome people from the county who are in opposition to marijuana,” said Kirby.

Dr. Andy Peterson of Ontario, with Kirby, is co-director of the No Pot Ontario. Ontario resident Bob Kemble is the treasurer.

In 2016, No Pot Ontario raised $4,500 and spent $3,600.

Jim Forrester, 36, the Ontario man spearheading the MalheurCAN campaign, said he was not surprised to hear of No Pot Ontario’s plans.

“We definitely look forward to seeing what their concerns are and seeing what we can do to ensure their concerns are addressed and met,” he said.

Forrester said he’s willing to chat with the directors of No Pot Ontario on the issues, “as far as proving our point that it is not necessarily a thing where the negatives outweigh the positives.”

“We are all in this community together. What we need to do is be able to sit down with them. It would be nice to reach a compromise. I think we have a very viable solution that won’t cause negative social aspects,” said Forrester.

Dave Eyler, a Vale resident and one of three chief petitioners for the MalheurCAN ballot initiative, said he wasn’t surprised to hear of the No Pot campaign.

“That is the nature of things. There will always be an opposing force no matter what. We are ready for the challenge,” he said.

Forrester said tax revenue from retail marijuana would help the city.

“We don’t have another option for a revenue stream and we need it,” he said.

Forrester was pleased to hear MalheurCAN was successful in gathering signatures for a ballot issue. He said MalheurCAN collected 1,860 signatures, but needed only 825 to qualify for the ballot.

Forrester said his group asked Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter to verify only 50 signatures beyond the 825 required. She verified 853 signatures last week.

He said his campaign received help from Spokane businessman Tate Kapple, who earlier this year sought to place a pro-marijuana measure on the November ballot and then withdrew it.

Kappel built a multimillion-dollar marijuana business in Washington state and is expanding into his native Iowa. Kapple’s Spokane business operates from two locations and will collect an estimated $20 million revenue in 2018. 

Forrester said Kappel and MalheurCAN decided to join forces because “ultimately our goal is the same one.”

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 City Council voted to ban dispensaries. 

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.