Burnt River Farms, a marijuana dispensary in Ontario. (File photo/courtesy Burnt River Farms)

ONTARIO - A special meeting by the Ontario City Council to consider ordering the city's three marijuana dispensaries to close to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak has been cancelled.

The council will discuss closing the city's dispensaries during its regular meeting set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said the city decided to cancel its special meeting on the advice of city attorney Larry Sullivan.

Brown said the city was concerned it did not give 24-hour notice to the public about the meeting.

Brown said an alternative to closing the dispensaries would be to order them to maintain social distancing requirements set by the state. 

The initial reason for the emergency meeting is that “it has been observed by a lot of people over the weekend that they haven’t been maintaining the social distancing requirements set by the state,” Brown said. 

At least one dispensary was warned by Brown and Ontario Mayor Riley Hill personally reached out to another. 

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Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said she received numerous messages over the weekend regarding crowds at local dispensaries.

"Part of it is, as they moved people outside, trying to reduce how many people were going inside, it made it much more visible. The parking lots were crowded and standing shoulder to shoulder and that is not really social distancing," said Poe.

As far as warning folks to change their practices, Brown said that would be an appropriate thing to do, and he said he believes the dispensaries may be able matters into their own hands.

For example, Brown said, they could take orders by phone and have people wait in their cars. Some dispensaries have sanitized menus after each visit, and put “x”s on the floor to ensure customers to maintain proper distance, Brown added.

Health officials have said that people should keep at least six feet apart to prevent any spread of COVID-19.

The Oregon Cannabis Association already asked the state to designate dispensaries as essential services in the event that non-essential businesses are required to shutter due to the coronavirus outbreak, citing the fact that many people rely on access to marijuana for medical purposes. 

“We know that many states are currently taking action to help people continue to access their medicine through different strategies,” the Oregon Cannabis Association wrote in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown. 

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission recently approved a short-term measure to allow marijuana dispensaries to perform transactions and deliver product from a dispensary to a person who is outside of the store and within 150 feet of the retailer's licensed premises.

The letter cites San Francisco as an example. The city’s pot shops were briefly shuttered, but were later reopened. As of Thursday night, all Californians were required to shelter in place with exceptions for essential workers and businesses.

Brown is expected to issue new orders on Monday regarding social distancing.

Ontario's three dispensaries include Burnt River Farms, at 1055 N.W. Washington Ave., Hotbox Farms, at 325 N.E. Goodfellow St., and Weedology at 591 E. Idaho Avenue.

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