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City of Ontario

When will pot shops open? State and city officials say there are too many variables to know.

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When will pot shops open? State and city officials say there are too many variables to know.

This Monday photo shows the foundation for a recreational marijuana retailer owned by Chadcorp, which is nearby the Holiday Express on Southeast 10th Street. The sign for another store, Weedology, which will likely be the first of the retailers to open — though it is unknown when — is visible in the background, near the center of the photo. That store is on East Idaho Avenue.

ONTARIO — Though it looks like at least one recreational marijuana retailer is open in Ontario — it’s not, and it’s anyone’s guess as to the exact date Weedology, or any of the other retailers might be open, as many applications are currently undergoing review by an investigator with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

And with the city’s fiscal year starting July 1, it’s somewhat of a concern.

According to City Manager Adam Brown, when projections were first made about the $1 million in pot revenue the city could make, that was done with the prediction that dispensaries — yes, more than one — would be operational by July 1.

“The projection could dip slightly,” Brown said, adding that he talked to the City Council during their last regular meeting about the possibility of lower revenues.

During the next meeting, June 25, Brown plans to go over budget plans.

“We’ll watch those finances closely so we don’t overspend what we don’t have,” he said.

But Brown is optimistic that at least one shop might open “in the next week or two.”

No firm date from state

An official with the state however, which is currently processing through applications, was less inclined to give any indication of a firm date, based on too many variables.

According to Mark Pettinger, with OLCC, the state has received 16 retail applications for Ontario. Of those, he said, seven have been assigned to investigators to work on.

Although there’s no fixed timeline for them to complete the job, he said, they are giving priority assignment to “opt-in jurisdictions,” such as Ontario, Klamath Falls and Joseph, where bans on retail sales were overturned.

Across the state, OLCC has been issuing a lot of licenses, “but we realized we needed to provide an on-ramp for applicants to get in because these were areas that hadn’t been served by licenses or activity,” he said. “So putting them in the very back of the line with a significant number of licensees wouldn’t make sense.”

Pettinger said he is also aware of the buffer zones that have been established here which have the potential to knock out other shops, depending on who opens first.

“You’re in a land rush in Ontario because of buffer zones,” he said.

This land rush played out as recently as Monday, when Dan Cummings said he received another application for a retailer that knocks out a pre-applicant who never submitted their final conditional use permit because they were in negotiations with potential dispensary owners.

The newest applicant and owner of the property is Idaho H.M. LLC, of Boise, and they have a property just southwest of Murakami Produce, said Cummings, who is the director of Community Development.

OLCC’s six-page application for recreational marijuana retailers is extensive, and seeks a variety of information from applicants. This includes “key factors,” Pettinger said, such as background checks and financing framework. But there are many other check-offs that must also be completed, such as video surveillance and alarms, transportation of retail product and employee training.

People always ask the state how long it is going to take, and Pettinger emphasized that “it really is up to the applicant.” In addition to submitting a complete application, he said, applicants also need to follow up on paperwork in a timely manner. For example, if an investigator needs more information or something is missing and they reach out to the applicant, Pettinger said, “the sooner the applicant gets info back the sooner it will be acted on.”

Investigator caseloads

With investigators’ caseloads being heavy — 30 cases each — they each have to manage their own workflow. So, if an applicant doesn’t get back to an investigator on a request in a timely manner, they might already be working on the next task.

“Based on my experience so far, there are a lot of folks who take a couple-three weeks or longer to respond to get whatever we ask of them,” Pettinger said.

That resulted in a lot of generated complaints from applicants when OLCC first started issuing licenses three years ago.

“The first applicants we had were not necessarily the first licensed — those were folks who dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s,” Pettinger said. “It remains the same.”

Of the seven Ontario applicants who have been assigned investigators, three are on hold for various reasons, he said, though he could not tell what the reason was.

In general there is an expectation that anyone assigned an investigator gets 90 days to complete the process.

“If they’re not prepared to get done in that timeframe, we will put them into an applicant hold status for up to six months,” he said.

Applications still incomplete at that time that seem to be inactive will get a final chance to respond to the OLCC.

“Often times they will ghost us in terms of email responses,” he said.

If there’s no compelling reason for state investigators to continue, the application will be withdrawn from the system and it will be up to the applicant to start the process over, Pettinger explained.

City license is final step

Once the state license is complete, applicants can file for the last license they will need to open their doors: a city license. These will only be issued once the state signs off on their end.

Despite not having state sign-off, one applicant, Weedology, has submitted paperwork for the city license, and in order to help expedite things, city officials have been checking off their end of things as quickly as possible, according to Cummings. This includes reviews by himself, and Ontario police and fire departments, as well as other items such as background checks and fingerprinting.

“It’s a long and drawn out process,” Cummings said, commenting that Weedology would likely be the first shop to open, as “nobody else is even close to it yet.”

The backlog is not exclusive to state and city applications, however, some of the hold-up, according to Cummings, has involved shops which are building shops from the ground up, such as Hotbox Farms and East Lane Holding.

There are four sites OK’d and under construction, he said, and a fifth which recently had building plans approved.

With Hotbox Farms, the city plans were approved for a month before they were able to get a licensed contractor, which is a necessary step in Oregon to obtain a building permit, Cummings said.

For all outward appearances, it seems Weedology is ready to open its doors, and Cummings commented that as far as he was concerned they could technically open up as a retail store and sell Coca-Cola, with the cautionary advice that he didn’t know how the state would feel about that.

That business however, has met all the conditional use permit requirements.

Cummings did express concern over traffic once Weedology opens — especially if they are the only store open at that time.

He is concerned about the flow of traffic given the unpassable island in the middle of the four lanes on East Idaho Avenue. Traffic coming to the store from the east will likely leave the store, head to the next light and have to do a u-turn to return to where they came from.

He said on a recent site visit to the store, they were “inundated with traffic,” with about 50 people stopping by to see if the store was open.

“What I was amazed at, was how many out-of-towners were stopping through,” Cummings said, adding that a percentage of sales from people just traveling through as revenue hadn’t even been something he was thinking about when they did the initial revenue projections.

Eric Lantz, general manager of Weedology, and Stephanie Lang, intake specialist at Weedology said they see an average of about 100 people stopping per day with mixed reactions about not being open yet.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault,” Lantz said of how long the process is taking.

While they have been in contact with the state inspector, they have not had their final inspection yet, which will be a physical walk-through of the site.

Lantz said city officials have been “super cooperative” with pre-processing the city license as far as it can go.

He credited the owners, too, for doing a good job of getting everything in place.

Lantz said there is a pool of people lined up to work when the time is right, adding that the store is expected to hire about 25 people, overall to keep their store running from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

Although the store has 52 parking spots, neighboring businesses have been receptive about conversations regarding overflow or employee parking, Lantz said.

For now, he said, they are ready to open, but waiting all the final approval.

Until then, “We are sprinting in place,” Lantz said. “If I could give a hard date, I would.”

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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