ONTARIO — The City of Ontario’s leadership is continuing to address the on-going public health crisis related to the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Following the cancellation of a city-wide conference call with city officials relating to the proposal of temporarily closing down local marijuana dispensaries, the Ontario City Council held its second meeting of the month on Tuesday night to discuss this topic during the public comments portion of the meeting.
No decision was made in regard to the closure of dispensaries as the discussion was limited to the public comment portion of the meeting. The next city work session is scheduled for April 9.
City councilors and staff kept a safe distance between one another during the duration of the meeting, while others attended the meeting via conference call.
Shawn McKay, from the city of Huntington, one of the co-owners of Burnt River Farms was the first to speak about the proposed action regarding local dispensaries.
McKay first wanted to describe some of the safety measures that his store is taking to protect customers and employees.
“We have changed to no smelling of the jars or handling of the product,” explained McKay.
He also said how staff no longer has any kind of physical interaction with customers. McKay also described how the actual cash-only purchases have changed.
“Money is being set on the counter,” he said.
McKay said how the store has two “social distance officers” on site with vests and walkie talkies to communicate with one another and the manager on staff during their shift. He also said how he has been holding regular meetings with his store managers to go over the information as it becomes available and changes.
City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez asked McKay if he things that the dispensaries are adding to out-of-town traffic in Ontario, which could lead to a spread of COVID-19.
“Do you agree that this industry, like no other in the city, brings the largest amount of cross-state traffic from the Boise area. Would you agree with that?” asked Rodriguez.
McKay responded affirmatively, but added that the dispensaries do not add to the Ontario traffic from Idaho any more than large retainers like Walmart or Waremart.
Next to speak was citizen Byron Shock, who said he wanted to see all industries complying with the mandates set forth by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the State of Oregon. He said how he felt personally uncomfortable in public spaces during this time and wanted everyone to comply with the suggested social distancing measures. To this end, he said that the dispensaries are just one of the industries that he wants to see follow the newly established rules in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Shock, he said he believes that dispensaries, especially medical marijuana, are an essential service.
The Council also heard comments from representatives of Weedology and the future bowling alley-located dispensary, via conference calls, about the safety precautions that are being undertaken by both businesses. Most of the precautionary measures mentioned are similar in scope to one another and involve social distancing and limiting the amount of physical handling of the product as possible.
Judy Trask, Malheur County Prevention Coordinator, was the last to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Trask, a resident of Caldwell who works out of Lifeways, called in to add to the discussion.
Trask had some concerns with dispensaries being compared to pharmacies because she said that marijuana cannot be prescribed by a physician or picked up at a pharmacy.
“There’s not a whole lot of evidence about the medical benefits,” stated Trask.
She said how she struggled with the notion of considering marijuana dispensaries an essential business “in times like this.”