Fans cheer music Saturday, Oct. 5, in Ontario at a free show featuring Snoop Dogg. The event was part of an attention-grabbing grand opening for Hotbox Farms' new retail store. (DJ Davis/Special to the Enterprise)

ONTARIO – An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people came to party in Ontario Saturday at the grand opening of the city’s third dispensary, Hotbox Farms. The main draw was world-renowned rap artist Snoop Dogg, who entertained at a free concert put on by the marijuana retailer.

The Ontario Police Department estimated that about 70% of the crowd came from out-of-state.

The Saturday night concert next to the dispensary’s location at 325 N.E. Goodfellow St. resulted in one event-related arrest, police said.

Ontario officials this week remained upset that the marijuana retailer orchestrated a major event with little notice.

“Our community and city staff was jeopardized by having this magnitude of an event without adequate response capabilities,” Police Chief Steven Romero said in a statement Monday.

Romero said the night was marked by gridlock traffic and congestion that impacted the east section of the city from Interstate 84 to the Idaho border. The agency said local residents reported delays of up an hour to get through the area.

Ontario police responded to complaints of fights in parking lots, traffic collisions, and ingestion of marijuana and alcohol in public places, Romero said. He said the department fielded noise complaints from neighboring Fruitland, Idaho, and arrested one driver for driving impaired after a traffic collision on East Idaho Avenue.

Steven Meland, Hotbox founder and part owner, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Monday.

However, the response was favorable from concert-goers, who praised Hotbox on social media for the event.

Posting on Facebook, Donovan Fuentez was among those who lauded the experience.

 “This proves you can have people come to a event with no trouble – everyone was welcome and great. Kids, grandmas, left or right wingers, hippies, straights, gays – it didn’t matter color or creed all love and dancing. It truly was a monumental event really. Police and security were great and the eye in the sky (police drone) kept a good look on it all.”

Some area businesses were happy with the event, which ended with a large fireworks show. 

When Dezarae Silence came to work as a manager at the Red Lion Inn and Suites in Ontario Saturday morning, she wasn’t expecting the hotel to be full. But all the rooms ended up selling out. 

Maintenance crews from the Red Lion were at the parking lot ensuring that only guests were parking there. 

“For it being last-minute notice, we didn’t have any complaints. I was surprised,” Silence said. “I had a lot of happy guests, my older guests who knew who Snoop Dogg was were actually happy to see him, they were more pleased with the fireworks as well.”

Representatives of Clarion Inn, Best Western Inn & Suites and Quality Inn, all in the area of the concert, declined to comment.

Some local eateries reported higher sales Saturday.

Joel Ruiz, owner of Tacos el Zarape situated about a mile from the concert location, said the event boosted sales that night. Ruiz said the restaurant stayed open for about an hour later than usual, until midnight, as customers stayed to watch the fireworks show.

“I think it helped a lot of businesses, not just me but others as well, because there were a lot of people,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he called Ontario Mayor Riley Hill on Saturday morning after hearing that the concert might be shut down and urged Hill to protect the event.

“We need more events like this in Ontario,” Ruiz said. 

The Dairy Queen Grill & Chill on Goodfellow Street also reported higher sales.

“Business was pretty good that night,” said Manager Jennifer Parker. 

Parker was not on duty the night of the concert, but she said the business sold more than usual Saturday. Parking was an issue, with spots being taken by people who weren’t customers. 

Taqueria Muñoz, an Ontario taco truck, was one of the only eateries on the concert premises.

Juan Pablo Muñoz, who ran the truck that night with his wife Rosalinda de la Fuente, did not expect such a huge turnout. Muñoz had previously sold at a cannabis festival in Ontario that only gathered a few hundred people. 

“If I had known it would be that big I would’ve brought three times the amount of meat that I brought” as well as extra hands to help out with the long line that formed outside his truck, Muñoz said. De la Fuente had to fetch extra tortillas and meat throughout the event. By 8 p.m. Muñoz said he had sold out of food.

The big draw was 47-year-old Snoop Dogg, of Long Beach, California. His 17th album “I Wanna Thank Me” was released in August. He’s also acted in films and several TV shows including “Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party” with Martha Stewart.

Snoop Dogg has long been a supporter of and investor in the cannabis industry, launching a trade website called Merry Jane and his own pot brand – Leafs by Snoop – in 2015.

Meland told a reporter last weekend that Snoop Dogg's appearance was arranged on short notice through promoters that Meland said he knows. He said Snoop Dogg was paid for his appearance.

“He normally wouldn’t even take a gig at a place like Ontario,” Meland said. “He usually goes for higher population areas.”

The show was held on a dirt field adjacent to the Hotbox store, with a large sound stage and a sound system that could be heard blocks away. The event formally started at 4:20 p.m. and people began gathering before then. The field was packed during the evening as the concert unfolded.

Cars, many of them bearing Idaho plates, lined Goodfellow and the surrounding streets. Drivers parked blocks away or in parking lots belonging to neighboring Walmart and Home Depot.

The crowd was a mix of ages. Some parents were there with babies in strollers, others carried toddlers atop their shoulders, older children ran around, and adults young to old cavorted in the lot as the DJ played.

The smell of marijuana was conspicuously absent.

Snoop Dogg arrived shortly before 8:30 p.m. in a black SUV.

Ontario officials said they didn’t learn of the event until Friday. Hotbox obtained permits for fireworks, food catering and a beer garden but had not been granted a special events permit or a noise variance, the city said in a Friday evening statement.

City Manager Adam Brown said that Hotbox applied for a special events permit as required by city ordinance the day before the Snoop Dogg concert, but because the application was on such short notice, it was denied.

Brown said the city plans to fine on Hotbox for putting on an unauthorized event. 

“I suspect we plan on recovering a cost incurred,” Brown said.

However, he said city officials are pleased that given the size of the event, there were no major incidents.

“We are glad it ended up well and everybody was safe. It did come at a cost to the city to be able to be there and on demand if needed, but as an event for the city, our hope is that our businesses did well on that side of the town,” Brown said.

Brown said that under normal circumstances the city would support events like Saturday’s concert. 

Ontario city law requires a special permit for "any event which involves activity that is out of the normal range of activities typically occurring in the area where the event is supposed to take place, and that places an additional demand on city services" and includes "concerts" as a special event.

The city law requires such permits to be sought 15 days before the event. Violators can be fined up to $1,000.

City officials said Monday they turned down a verbal request Friday afternoon for such a permit. Hotbox officials couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

Romero said he’s working with other city officials to determine the cost of the event for the city and consulting with the city’s legal staff about actions for “any identified ordinance violations.” The Ontario Fire Department brought in two extra crews on overtime in anticipation of the crowd.

Romero isn’t new to major events, taking the Ontario job and moving from Los Angeles, where he has spent his policing career.

“In my professional opinion, Hot Box Inc., placed our local community in jeopardy, due to their decision to operate this scale of event without any prior safety planning with local officials, operating without the proper permits (Even after their verbal request was denied late Friday afternoon), and without insuring that adequate public safety resources to insure public safety were available,” Romero said in his statement Monday.

Police adopted a "monitor and assess" approach because of inadequate police staffing, Romero said.

He said his agency would conduct an “after-action analysis.”

“My concern,” he wrote in his statement, “was the lack of collaboration by Hotbox with city officials in a punctual manner, their willingness to operate despite being informed that they were not permitted for certain activities, their failure to even consider the hazards and impacts on surrounding businesses and community members, and the fact that our community and city staff was jeopardized by having this magnitude of an event without adequate response capabilities.”

 “For as big as it was they did a pretty good job at policing themselves,” Brown said.

Brown also lauded local authorities for maintaining order.

“The plan they put together at the last minute was excellent,” Brown said.

Hotbox Farms has been a key player in Ontario’s marijuana industry from the start, helping campaign in 2018 to successfully repeal Ontario’s ban on recreational marijuana sales.

The business, owned by Meland and Jeremy Breton, has operated a retail store north of Ontario in Huntington.

"Hotbox Farms does it all for the community,” Meland said Saturday. “We just enjoy throwing the community events," Meland said Saturday.

Snoop Dogg holds the stage on Saturday, Oct. 5, in Ontario at a free show. The event was part of an attention-grabbing grand opening for Hotbox Farms' new retail store. (DJ Davis/Special to the Enterprise)

Hotbox Farms founder and co-owner Steven Meland at the concert Saturday. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

Fans started gathering early in Ontario for the anticipated free concert at the grand opening of the retail marijuana store run by Hotbox . Farms. The concert drew several thousand people on Saturday, Oct. 5. (Pat Caldwell/The Enterprise)

Hotbox Farms put on a free concert in Ontario with special guest Snoop Dogg Saturday, Oct. 5. (The Malheur Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

Crews set up the stage for a free concert planned for Saturday night as Hotbox Farms opens its east Ontario location. Rapper Snoop Dogg is scheduled to perform during the show on Saturday, Oct. 5. (Pat Caldwell/The Enterprise)

News tip? Contact reporter Yadira Lopez at yadira@malheurenterprise.com or Joe Siess at news@malheurenterprise.com or call 541-473-3377.