Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

HUNTINGTON — Green energy is on display as five large wind turbines slowly spin on ridge above this Baker County town near the Snake River.

But another kind of green industry also is thriving in Huntington, population about 450.

Marijuana businesses are attracting hundreds of people daily to the town, which is just off Interstate 84, about 45 miles from Baker City and 25 miles from Ontario.

There are two retail marijuana stores, a smokeshop that sells marijuana accessories, and a marijuana farm within the city limits.

Another retail store is also slated to open later this year.

Last Friday there was a steady stream of customers at the two retail marijuana outlets. Hotbox Farms had 15 to 20 cars parked in the store’s parking lot and on the street. 420Ville had nearly as many cars parked in front of it throughout the day.

It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, business is booming at Hotbox Farms, owner Steve Meland said.

“It’s always busy,” he said. “It’s really crazy.

Meland said his store has catered to as many as 500 customers on its busiest day.

He said the majority of his customers are from Idaho, where marijuana is illegal, but he has seen marijuana buyers from all over the world.

“It’s a wide range,” Meland said. “I’ve seen people from Dubai, Germany and Canada.”

Huntington Mayor Candy Howland said the pot stores are bringing people into town who also spend money at other local businesses.

Tracy McCue, who recently took over operation of the Huntington Country Store and Gas, estimates that up to 90 percent of her customers are in town to patronize the marijuana stores, both within a couple of blocks of her business.

“They don’t come here just for the munchies,” she said.

McCue said they are also buying fuel and other supplies.

On what McCue described as an unusually slow Friday, there was a steady stream of customers just before noon at the store — 20 customers in a span of 20 minutes.

Kennedy Walker, 32, of Washington, was one of those customers. He was in town for the third time in as many weeks to buy marijuana flowers and concentrates. He stops at the store to buy gas, snacks and ice on his trips to Huntington.

Walker said he uses marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of a motor neuron disease.

Despite marijuana being legal in his home state of Washington, he wants to move to Oregon.

“I want to move to Oregon because of laws regarding weed,” Walker said.

He believes the laws regarding the personal growing of marijuana in Oregon are less stringent than those in Washington.

Walker said he is still exploring possible locations in Oregon to move to. Huntington, he said, is on the list.

McCue and Huntington resident Carmen Harding said they have met people who have moved to town because of the marijuana stores here.

They said Huntington also attracts people for its small town personality and other opportunities such as hunting and fishing.

Although Harding and McCue do not use marijuana, both said they agree it should be legal, and they welcome the industry to Huntington.

“There’s more traffic, but I haven’t personally seen much change other than that,” Harding said.

Bill Hurley, retired railroad worker and local historian, compared the town’s “green rush” to gold rush towns that prospered and then disappeared when the gold panned out. He believes that it’s inevitable that nearby towns such as Ontario and Nyssa, also near the Idaho border, eventually will see the benefit of allowing marijuana businesses into their towns.

When that happens “it’s gonna more than dry up here,” he said. “The industry is sustainable, but not here.”

Hurley said he does not condone the use of marijuana but doesn’t condemn those who use it.

While business is booming for the marijuana stores, Howland said the city has yet to see any financial benefit from the local 3-percent tax on retail marijuana sales the city put into place via a ballot measure last November.

Huntington voters approved the tax measure by 185 to 20.

“(The marijuana store’s) economy is improving,” Howland said. “The city’s isn’t.”

See more in the June 14, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.