The city of Ontario has set a new monthly marijuana sales record, for the first time selling over $10 million in marijuana products in March 2021.
The data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission show that Malheur County marijuana shops sold over $10.3 million dollars for the month. Within Malheur County, only the city of Ontario allows legal marijuana sales. There are now eight shops open in this city of roughly 11,000 residents.
This makes Malheur the second-highest grossing marijuana sales county in the state of Oregon, after Multnomah County’s $28.9 million in sales. Multnomah is the home county to Portland, largely urbanized throughout, and home to over 812,000 people. Malheur is by far the state’s per capita sales leader, with sales of $19.12 per adult over age 18.
But, of course, it is not just the people of Ontario who are shopping for marijuana in Ontario, a town just across the border on Interstate 84. Idaho’s Treasure Valley—roughly the Census’s Combined Statistical Area including Idaho’s Ada, Canyon, Gem, Boise, Owyhee, Payette, and Elmore Counties—numbers over 800,000 in population.
When Ontario sells $10 million of marijuana a month, Ontario gets all the marijuana tax money and Idaho gets most of the marijuana smoking.Tweet
According to testimony from city leaders, Ontario receives about 1,500 unique visitors daily. They also testified that about ninety percent of the business in the Ontario shops is from Idahoans. Look in the parking lots of the eight Ontario pot shops and you’re going to mostly see Idaho license plates, some of those with county designators from far beyond the Treasure Valley.
City Councilman John Kirby even expressed that the tax revenue flowing in from Idaho was “like winning the lottery.” Ontario received a three percent cut from those $10 million in sales, which works out to $300,000. Since the first shop opened in July of 2019, Ontario’s raked in almost $4.2 million in city tax revenue alone.
Then the state of Oregon takes another seventeen percent cut, which works out to $23.7 million, some of which is funneled back into the city of Ontario and Malheur County.
If ninety percent of that Oregon tax revenue is generated by Idahoans, that means the Gem State has contributed over $25 million in tax revenue to the Beaver State.
The Idahoans who purchase marijuana products, however, don’t use those products in Oregon. Every day, a substantial number of the cars with Idaho plates traveling eastbound on Interstate 84 are trafficking marijuana into the state. Some unlucky few get caught in the gauntlet of Idaho State Police posted in the wilderness just over the border, but most do not.
So whatever harms may exist from the adult use of marijuana (not including the added harm of forcing adults to make interstate road trips to purchase it), Idaho suffers them and takes in zero tax dollars to deal with issues of substance abuse, impaired driving, and healthcare.
It’s not like struggling Idaho towns couldn’t use the money. Just across the river from Ontario, the city of Fruitland has tried in vain twice now to pass a $2.6 million bond measure to help fund improvements in their city hall building and to hire more police officers.
Meanwhile, the city of Ontario has been able to reopen a children’s water splash park and hire more police. Traffic from shopping at marijuana dispensaries has increased business at nearby stores. There’s new construction throughout Ontario.
Sales at $10 million even before Spring has fully sprung and pandemic protocols have been fully lifted augurs a summer full of new sales records for Malheur County. How much longer will Idahoans be forced to make their legal marijuana purchases out of state? How much longer can Idahoans accept marijuana purchases funding the schools, infrastructure, and law enforcement of other states, when they could be funding our own?