Ontario City Hall

This photo shows the Ontario City Hall.

ONTARIO — The latest chapter in the saga over Ontario recreational marijuana dispensaries unfolded as the controversial employee background check fee was brought back before the City Council on Tuesday night. The council voted to get rid of the fee. If passed during a second reading, dispensaries that are not yet licensed will not have to pay for those fees moving forward.

The discussion took the form of the first reading of an ordinance to amending sections of Chapter 24 of Title 3 of the Ontario Municipal Code for Collection of the Retail Marijuana Tax.

The Marijuana ad hoc committee, chaired by HotBox Farms co-owner Steven Meland, made the recommendation to remove the $220 per employee fee. This recommendation was shared with the council at its Oct. 4 work session.

Brown told the council that to make the changes necessary to update the municipal code, the group must pass Ordinance No. 2760-2019 for the amendment be effective. As it amends current law, if passed on a second reading, there will be a 30-day waiting period for the ordinance to be in effect.

On the heels of this discussion was the concern about what to do with the fees that have already been collected so far from two of the three dispensaries currently open for business in the city. City Attorney Larry Sullivan said he did not want the city to be part of a situation in which someone “reads in the newspaper” that the Council voted to do away with these fees and holds off opening up their store until the fees are completely gone, he pointed out in one scenario. As of right now, the current municipal code is to collect these fees.

Ontario Community Development Dan Cummings, in a follow up phone interview on Thursday afternoon, explained this further.

If the ordinance becomes legal, any dispensary that was licensed prior to that would still have to pay the city fee for their employees, and then they wouldn’t have to renew when that time came around.

Currently, Cummings said, he knows that background checks are backed up at the police department. Once the background checks are completed he issues the actual permit.

“Weedology submitted twenty-three,” he said, adding that they were all approved and issued city permits.

Cummings said he believes background checks are going through for employees at Burnt River Farms, as well. However, he said, he believed that all Hotbox Farms had only submitted a list of employees but had not paid for them yet.

When officials come back for the second reading, Cummings said, the language in the ordinance will be made clear that all dispensaries issued a permit “need to be in compliance.” To do so, he said, they must pay for those employee fees until it is time for a renewal, as no background checks would be being processed by then.

Dispensaries issued a license after the ordinance is in effect would not have to pay those employee fees.

Leslie Thompson contributed to this article.

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