People living in a conservative state with one of the worst state policies on cannabis in the country are crossing the border to illegally obtain cannabis in Oregon. Residents of Boise, Idaho, where cannabis is illegal, simply have to drive less than an hour to Ontario, Oregon to buy pot and officials aren’t happy.
The situation is proving something in real-time: that prohibition still doesn’t work. NPR reports that the situation has reached a “flashpoint” and it adds to the pile of reasons why eastern Oregonians aren’t accepting the changes that they’re seeing in their state.
Steven Meland opened Hotbox Farms in Ontario shortly after the city approved adult-use cannabis sales. “The politicians have been able to have this scenario where they say that they don’t have legal cannabis,” Meland told NPR. “But in all actuality we all know there’s legal cannabis in Boise,” he said, hinting that it’s obvious where his customers come from.
Hotbox Farms hardly serves Ontario’s 11,600 residents when there are over 700,000 in the Boise area closeby. “There [are] over a million people within a hundred mile radius of the store,” Meland added. “Of course they are serving a broader market.”
Politico explored the cannabis border phenomenon in Ontario in 2021. Ontario was once the home of the invention of tater tots, but is now known as cannabis central. Residents of the Boise area simply have nowhere else to go to buy pot. Politico profiled Brandon St. Germain of Cannabis & Glass, who reported a similar situation in which most customers come from out of state.
Don’t expect anything to change in Idaho, any time soon. Oregon is one of only two states in the country that bans all forms of cannabis. NORML gives Idaho Governor Brad Little an “F grade” as he opposes even medical-only cannabis bills—in disagreement with 88% of Americans—and industrial hemp bills. Meanwhile things have become so divisive in eastern Oregon that people there want to secede from the state.
The Urban-Rural Divide in Idaho and Oregon
Cannabis laws in the area are shaped by local culture. There’s quite a culture shock between the dyed-in-the-wool conservative culture of most areas of Idaho versus the culture of central Boise, where nearly half of residents voted Democrat.
Things are just as divisive comparing eastern Oregon versus the coast. Eastern Oregon, home of Ontario, is home to deeply embedded rural culture with a proven track record. A group of people on the rural eastern side Oregon attempted to petition to secede from the fiercely liberal state and join conservative Idaho.
Things haven’t slowed down for cannabis, however. According to NPR, Ontario now sells more cannabis per capita than any other city in Oregon, employing about 600 people for the tiny town.
Eastern Idaho leaders are trying to move the border of Idaho to secede from the state of Oregon, and pot is one of the reasons for pushing to do so.
“We have a little bit of a drug problem right on the side of our border,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, (R-Idaho Falls) at a recent hearing over House Joint Memorial No 1., a bill that would authorize Idaho to begin discussion with Oregon lawmakers about moving the border.
“A lot of Idahoans are going there [Ontario] and getting drugs, Ehardt said, “and that will be pushed hundreds of miles away.”
People in Idaho who travel to another state to buy cannabis for medical purposes are essentially cannabis refugees.