Oregon cities losing cannabis tax money to drug treatment
By Jake Thomas
For Ontario, Ore., legal cannabis promised a facelift and a path to prosperity for the town of 11,000.
After lifting its ban on recreational cannabis in 2018, Ontario had seen an influx of visitors from nearby Idaho (where the drug remains illegal). Malheur County, a sparsely populated and economically depressed area home to Ontario, has since consistently seen some of Oregon's highest cannabis sales. Last year, Ontario's 14 retailers generated over $100 million in sales, boosting the town's tax revenue.
Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said the town plans to spend its cannabis tax revenue on making it a more attractive place for new residents and businesses. That means funding for improved lighting and fiber Internet connections downtown, better roads and a 3-D mural at a local park.
"We could really make this city shine," Brown said. "We could make it attractive for the kids who say there is nothing for them here."
But Ontario, along with cities across Oregon, will have a harder time realizing their plans because of a shift in how the state distributes cannabis tax revenue.
The change was brought by Measure 110, a ballot initiative voters passed in November that decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs and replaced incarceration with treatment. Funding that treatment limited how much cannabis tax revenue cities can keep.