Data from the Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission reveal that 2021 marijuana sales growth was greatest in Malheur County and accounted for over a quarter of the $70.9 million annual marijuana sales increase for the state of Oregon.
Malheur County is a vast rural county of roughly 33,000 residents, located on the southwestern border with Idaho. Its largest city, Ontario, on the western border where Interstate 84 crosses into Idaho, has a population of about 11,000 and is the only town in the county that has approved the sale of recreational marijuana.
Just across the Snake River border and just an hours’ drive away is the capital of Idaho, Boise, the state’s largest city at about 235,000 people. It lies on the eastern edge of a 700-square-mile emerging Treasure Valley metroplex, running west to Caldwell, south to Kuna, and north to Eagle, home to roughly 850,000.
Marijuana shops in Ontario sell on average approximately $9.1 million per month, mostly to Idahoans, as evidenced by the ubiquity of Idaho license plates on the cars in the shop parking lots. In 2021, Ontario increased its annual sales figure from $91.7 million to $111.2 million, and that jump of $19.5 million in sales represented a 27.6% share of Oregon’s 2021 sales increase.
Malheur County’s 21.3% growth in 2021 was the greatest increase of Oregon’s 36 counties, with Douglas County coming in second with 20.6% growth.
Oregon’s most populous county, Multnomah, home to Portland, saw the greatest decrease in raw dollars, selling $3.1 million less in marijuana for 2021. However, the greatest proportional decrease came in Baker County, which saw a massive 39% decrease in annual sales, its $3 million loss second only to Multnomah.
Baker County is just one county farther west than Malheur and until 2019 had been the closest source for legal marijuana to that Treasure Valley Metroplex. Since the opening of legal shops in Ontario, Idaho traffic to the Baker County shops in Huntington and Sumpter has drastically declined.
Malheur County’s $111.2 million in 2021 sales is third best overall in the state, lagging behind only Multnomah County ($310.2M) and Washington County, home to Beaverton ($112M), and just ahead of Lane County, home to Eugene ($108.6M).
It’s time we all admit that Idaho has easy access to legal weed—the people buying $9.1 million of it a month aren’t smoking it all in Ontario. The problem is that Idaho law enforcement will still arrest and punish you for possessing it in Idaho.