ONTARIO, Oregon — According to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, legal marijuana shops in the tiny Oregon/Idaho border town of Ontario have topped over $103 million in sales in just over sixteen months of operation.
According to the records for Malheur County, sales of marijuana have been at about $8 million a month or greater for the past seven months, as over a half-dozen marijuana shops have opened since July 2019.
Malheur County still maintains a ban on marijuana businesses. That’s the status quo for most of Eastern Oregon, set in 2015 when state legislators allowed counties that rejected the 2014 marijuana legalization initiative to automatically ban marijuana licensees such as dispensaries and grow sites.
When it comes to Boise, we send our marijuana tax money to Ontario and they send their marijuana back to us.Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville
Ontario is the only city in Malheur County that allows marijuana sales, having voted by initiative to overturn its ban in 2018 by a 56.8 percent vote. With the local 3 percent marijuana tax in effect, this town of about 17,000 people has raised about $3.1 million in revenue from legal marijuana.
On a per-capita basis, that makes Malheur County, population roughly 30,000, by far the state leader in sales. In November, Ontario’s pot shops sold $23 worth of marijuana per person in November 2020.
Of course, they’re not just selling marijuana to Malheur County residents.
Ontario is just across the Snake River border with Idaho, and just a one-hour-or-less drive away from the 750,000 Idahoans living in the Boise Metro Area. The parking lots of Ontario’s marijuana shops, just off the two westbound Interstate 84 freeway exits, are teeming with cars bearing Idaho license plates.
Idaho has a 6 percent state sales tax. Assuming the vast majority of Ontario’s sales come from Idaho customers, that’s an estimated $480,000 per month Idaho could make in sales taxes alone, not to mention whatever additional cannabis excise taxes the state would implement.
“When it comes to Boise, we send our marijuana tax money to Ontario and they send their marijuana back to us,” explains Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Citizens Coalition, the group behind the last attempt to place medical marijuana on the Idaho ballot. “We’re not stopping anyone who wants to smoke marijuana from doing so and we’re wasting a lot of money trying to stop them.”