Man sentenced for role in homicide at dispensary

Multiple law enforcement agencies respond to a fatal stabbing that occurred  March 1 on a sidewalk outside of Burnt River Farms, a recreational marijuana dispensary in Ontario.

ONTARIO — A homicide outside a local retailer on March 1 has spurred many conversations, including one by the city about whether to address the matter by enforcing security at similar retailers — specifically recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Though major crimes have happened — even within recent months — at other local businesses, the murder of a man outside Burnt River Farms spurred forth the first discussion among city officials about possibly requiring dispensaries to strengthen security with the addition of guards.

The matter for now has been turned over to the city’s marijuana ad hoc committee, which is set to take up the issue for discussion at its next meeting.

The Argus Observer caught up with Shawn McKay, co-owner of Burnt River, regarding the possibility of strengthening security measures at dispensaries.

“My first thought, is that anytime the city requires us to do something, I’d like to know that the consideration is being made for all businesses, not just the marijuana industry.”

However, he said the conversation of security is still taking place between owners at dispensaries.

“I think it’s a situation we’re still considering and accepting and talking to other store owners in town about what makes the most sense,” he said, adding that there needed to be balance in keeping customers safe and making them feel comfortable, too.

“At the end of the day, it’s a store that’s no different from a gas station or Wal-Mart,” McKay said. “It’s just a high traffic area and things can happen.”

Likely the first of its kind

The fatal stabbing murder that occurred outside of the dispensary is most likely the first of its kind tied to the industry in Oregon.

“I think this particular issue in Ontario is a first of that type,” said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the OLCC’s Marijuana Division, in a phone interview on Friday, adding that he personally doesn’t believe dispensaries attract a criminal element in their clientele.

While the Oregon Liquor Control Commission did open a compliance intake for the case at Burnt River, the agency in this case is really just there if law enforcement needs them.

“As [Ontario Police Department’s] investigation continues, we’ll continue to monitor,” Pettinger explained. “It’s really their investigation.”

There have been other major crimes at facilities throughout the state, but the ones that stand-out are crimes that Pettinger could easily recall have involved robberies or burglaries.

One of these was a robbery in November of 2019 at Oregon Bud Company, a recreational marijuana retail store, which resulted in theft of product and money. Another of these, was during the same time frame and involved a wholesaler location, Shadow Box Farms. In that case, prowlers pried open a skylight on the roof and roped their way down, according to Pettinger. The heist was valued at $1 million, according to Portland news agencies that reported on the story.

“It was pretty significant and all captured on camera,” he says.

Another bigger case was a couple of years ago in southern Oregon, which involved a strongarm robbery at a grow site that had recently harvested; in that case the farmer was tied up during the theft.

As to what extent major crimes are tracked by the OLCC, Pettinger said he’s not certain, but the entity’s security requirements at this time are limited to high-resolution video surveillance systems.

Once a dispensary meets the OLCC’s minimum requirements, “if they want to go above and beyond to install more than necessary or have a more robust alarm system, they can do that.”

This could include a mobile “panic button” in addition to a fixed one, or a more secure method of storage for product and money than is required.

Though they are not required, if a dispensary does opt to have security guards, those guards must have gone through a certain level of certification per OLCC. Those who are certified as DPSST guards, “are more broadly knowledgeable about what’s right and wrong” when it comes to rules for securing marijuana facilities.

Oregon’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training provides training and certification for private security services in the marijuana industry.

McKay is aware of the state’s requirement if Burnt River does opt for security guards, as producers, processors, wholesalers, laboratories and retailer license holders in the state who hire a person to provide a security service without proper certification can lead to administrative action, such as civil penalty, or revocation of certification or licensure.

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