Letter alleges retailer in ‘back of the line,’ but OLCC official says Top Crop application is 'close to the top'

Top Crop, a recreational marijuana dispensary, is likely the next to open in Ontario. The city issued a certificate of occupancy on Nov. 8, the final piece needed before the state license. A state official said on Thursday that the applicant is moving 'close to the top' of the hold cue it is currently in.

ONTARIO — A state spokesman says a letter sent to the Legislature on behalf of the City of Ontario regarding reworking the state’s distribution formula for taxes from marijuana dispensaries “conflates” two unrelated issues: the tax formula and the backlog at the OLCC.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, while not in charge of the Marijuana Tax State Share Distribution formula, was still mentioned in the letter which indicates the backlog has been “very damaging for Ontario.”

The letter also states that due to the “backlog at OLCC we were told that any new dispensaries,” including the two that are finished or nearing completion, “will be put at the back of the line.”

While the letter was signed by Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO John Breidenbach, he says he wasn’t the author. The chamber leader said the letter came from Ontario City Manager Adam Brown.

Breidenbach said at a recent Chamber Board meeting that Brown, as an ex officio, reported about the city’s recent sending of a letter regarding the formula, asking if the board would follow suit.

The board OK’d sending such a letter to the leader of the House Interim Committee on Revenue, and Breidenbach said he would “be happy to send it along if someone provided a template.”

In asking Brown where he had heard the “back of the line” comment, he told the Argus that Top Crop co-owners Bryan Chadwick and Mike Hanigan had told him, “they were thinking they were put to the back.”

However, this was not made clear in the letter.

Chadwick, in response, told the Argus “it depends on what line you’re talking about,” emphasizing that they had been put into a reassignment “cue with other outlets, retailers, wholesalers and producers.”

He said although they “hadn’t moved up all that much,” they had indeed moved up in line, and he thought most recently it was into 11th place.

Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the OLCC’s marijuana division, told the Argus on Wednesday he was unaware of any applicants being pushed to the back of a line, and would look into it.

Top Crop place in cue ‘real close to the top’

In a follow-up phone call with Pettinger on Thursday afternoon, he told the Argus that Top Crop was “close, they’re real close to the top” of the reassignment hold cue the dispensary has been sitting in.

After talking with people in licensing, Pettinger said the reason Top Crop was in the reassignment cue was that “at one point they were assigned an investigator but they weren’t ready. The initial delay was on their side and they’ weren’t ready to move forward.”

They’ve been in the reassignment cue since then and are now “pretty close to the top of the hold cue for retailers,” he said, explaining that this category did not just include retail applicants, but also “a few” changes of ownership and changes of location.

“I can’t give you how long, but they are getting close to top where they are assigned an investigator,” Pettinger said. “Now, if they aren’t ready this time, how quickly they are going to be licensed, is up to them.”

Upon checking with the licensing team, Pettinger said he was told that “some applications in front of them are pretty well buttoned up and should move pretty quickly. But the team working on those applications have to clear off a few files in front of them already.”

Will OLCC get help from 2020 Legislature?

In late December, Pettinger told the Argus that the OLCC’s marijuana division was overloaded, and that there wasn’t “a unit that’s not working past our capacity.” This was related to caseload and compliance investigations.

He said the head count needed to catch up and that the agency was planning to head to the Legislature as soon as possible to ask for more staff, but that might have to wait until 2021.

In an update on Wednesday, Pettinger wrote in an email that he did not think the division would get any administrative positions added this year, but that there might be an addition for a mapping person.

“We used to rely on [the Oregon Health Authority] for the required mapping details for the map on our website,” he said, emphasizing the need was related to ensuring the 1,000-foot restriction from dispensaries to schools was being met.

“Now we are maintaining that function with someone [internally], but it’s not their job,” Pettinger says. “There are other state agencies which would like to have access to that data, but we don’t have the body for it.”

Getting back to the tax distribution formula

Despite the inaccuracy in the letter to the State Representative, “the tone is understood,” Briedenbach said of the letter. “It’s the same thing we’ve been complaining about for years: the wear and tear on roads. The playing field needs to be leveled if we’re bringing in the money. We should be able to get our fair share.”

In his years of chamber experience, Breidenbach has seen the same type of issue play out with Travel Oregon and hotel tax.

“It’s the same fight,” he said.

In addition to the letter from the chamber, letters regarding reconfiguring the Marijuana Tax State Share Distribution formula have been sent from both the City of Ontario and its marijuana ad hoc committee.

Requests from Rep. Nancy Nathanson, R-District 13, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-District 60, regarding comments or opinions on reworking the formula were not available by press time.

Nathanson and Owens both sit on the House Committee on Revenue; as the chairwoman of the committee, Nathanson was the recipient of the locally generated letters.

It’s worth noting that as of this morning, the topic is not listed under assigned measures that are currently in committee.

Leslie Thompson is the editor at The Argus Observer. She can be reached at (541) 823-4818 or by emailing lesliet@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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