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Tiny Town Is Home To One Of Oregon's Busiest Pot Dispensaries


Scott Matthews opened his medical and recreational pot dispensary, 420Ville, in February.

Scott Matthews opened his medical and recreational pot dispensary, 420Ville, in February.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Huntington is an old railway town in eastern Oregon that had been dying.

But in an effort to generate a little business, the city decided to allow marijuana sales after the state legalized recreational sales.

With that move, the 420Ville dispensary became the only place to buy recreational pot within a two-and-a-half hours drive.

And that means Huntington is very different from any of its neighboring towns, with the dispensary parking lot filled with cars from Pendleton, Baker City, LaGrande and Idaho.

“With us having 25 to 60 people waiting to get in. We go with a numbering system,” said 420Ville owner Scott Matthews.

It doesn’t sound very customer oriented and it doesn’t need to be. The dispensary gets 200 customers a day, with half of them being new customers at any given time.

420Ville pays more than $100,000 a month in taxes. And it only opened seven months ago.

420Ville pays more than $100,000 a month in taxes. And it only opened seven months ago.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

And they’re definitely not from Huntington, population of about 400.
 
Matthews said many customers even drive the 80 miles from Boise, even though it’s illegal to carry marijuana back to Idaho.

“They have to sign an agreement releasing us of any liabilities. You’ve got to be 21, you can’t smoke on the premises. You can’t take it across state lines,” he said.

Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash said they’ve seen an increase in traffic, especially from Idaho, but there’s not much he can do about it.

“Just because they have marijuana in their vehicles, we can’t stop and ask to search because they haven’t committed a crime until they cross that Idaho border,” Ash said.

When they cross the border, 420Ville customers are in another jurisdiction and beyond the reach of the sheriff.

Ash said he’s talked to a drug team supervisor in Idaho, but hasn’t heard what, if anything, they’re doing.

Meanwhile, Ash said overall crime has increased in Huntington. In 2015, his office dealt with 24 criminal cases there. By this October, it was already 54 cases.

Rise In Criminal Cases For Huntington City

The current year data runs from January through October of 2016.

Baker County Sheriff's Department

“You know, looking at these cases, it’s hard for me to say unless I go through one-by-one and do an actually tally of them, that they’re more violent or anything like that. We’ve had quite a few warrant arrests this year, some disturbances and domestics in Huntington,” he said.

Though marijuana is legal in Oregon, Baker County chose not to allow sales — with county leaders worrying about similar problems.

But the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over the town. So, at the behest of then-mayor Travis Young, Huntington allowed recreational pot sales.

“It’s a mixed emotion here,” Young said. 

“The older generation, the retirees, half of them say, ‘Yeah, seems like a way to generate income.’ And some of them were just absolutely against it.

“I’m sorry if I made them mad, but when I made my decision,” Young said. “I had to think about Huntington as a whole. And I had to try to make some kind of taxable income coming in here.”

Former Huntington mayor, Travis Young, helped allow pot sales in town - even though the local county didn't want i.

Former Huntington mayor, Travis Young, helped allow pot sales in town - even though the local county didn't want i.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

And there’s definitely income from the business: 420Ville pays more than $100,000 a month in taxes. And it only opened seven months ago.

Right now, that money goes to the state, not to the city. Young said it’s time Huntington got its own slice, which is why voters here will decide this election whether to impose a 3 percent local tax.

“Even though some people were against it being here. They’ve still got the opinion, ‘Well if it’s here, let’s at least get the tax money off it,’” Young said. “I’m pretty confident that it’ll pass.”

There’s no organized opposition to the measure, even dispensary owner Matthews supported the people who proposed the tax.

“They had to fight the League of Cities. They had to fight local law. I mean they had a lot of pressure,” said Matthews.

“The pressure is off. It’s proven to be very positive. We’re getting senators and state representatives in this town, buying me lunch,” Matthews added.

“I think the other towns that opted out are probably regretting it.”

He’s right.

Several small towns — sitting in counties that have rejected pot — will vote on selling and taxing it this election season.

MAP: Oregon Cities And Counties Prohibiting Recreational Marijuana Businesses

As of November 2016, the following cities or counties have opted to prohibit licensed recreational marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers and/or retailers, according to the OLCC. Several of them have their bans up for public vote in the November general election.

Data provided by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission

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