Although Pendleton’s first two recreational marijuana dispensaries opted for more sedate decor, High Desert Cannabis is far from inconspicuous.
Located near one of the busiest intersections in town, the 341 S.W. 20th St. cannabis store is painted with a bright green that matches the color scheme of the medical crosses adorned across the business’ sign.
High Desert Cannabis isn’t hiding the fact that it’s a dispensary and one of its owners is also adamant that the new business has no association with the former owner of a medical marijuana dispensary near Hermiston.
Once customers go inside the store, most of the green is concentrated in the products behind the glass at the small and tidy sales floor.
Manager Chris Hasenbank said sales have gone as expected since High Desert Cannabis opened its doors July 7. He said last weekend’s Pendleton Whisky Music Fest brought an uptick in business and they’re preparing for more customers in town for Pendleton Bike Week.
According to co-owner Michael Ekblad and his father William Reuter, Pendleton’s growing tourism industry was one reason High Desert Cannabis was established in the Round-Up City.
Getting in on the ground-floor of the burgeoning recreational pot industry was another.
“What a great opportunity for someone who is motivated and wants to pursue a business that has a great potential to succeed,” Reuter said.
High Desert Cannabis’ ownership group shares some connections with convicted felon Michael Parker, the former owner of the Columbia Basin Compassion Center medical marijuana dispensary, although both sides are adamant that Parker is not involved with the business.
An ardent proponent of medical marijuana, Parker ran a dispensary until a Umatilla County moratorium shut it down in 2014.
Ekblad’s business partner with High Desert Cannabis is Parker’s daughter, Aimee Parker. Also, Ekblad listed the same unincorporated Hermiston home address on his zoning application that Parker listed as his home address for the Columbia Basin Compassion Center in 2011 and 2012, according to the Oregon Secretary of State business registry.
Reuter said he owns the Hermiston property and rented it out to Parker several years ago and now uses it to provide housing for his son.
For his part, Parker also denied being involved in High Desert Cannabis.
Despite reaching out to the East Oregonian to apprise the newspaper of the store’s opening, he said he’s not involved in his daughter’s business and waved away the address connection.
“A lot of people live there,” he said.
Parker has a long rap sheet, having been convicted of several felonies and misdemeanors, including second degree disorderly conduct, second degree burglary and first degree criminal mischief.
Reuter said Parker’s history was a factor in Aimee Parker and Ekblad’s decision to strike it out on their own.
“That’s why the kids didn’t want him involved in any way, shape or form,” Reuter said. “They didn’t want that following them.”
Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said it isn’t uncommon to see marijuana business owners or associates with criminal records.
Roberts said he looks at these applicants under a limited scope, focusing on whether they’ve been convicted of a drug-related crime in the last three years.
Given that scope, Roberts said he meets with each marijuana business owner and goes over the police’s role in enforcing the rules and laws.
Although he didn’t comment specifically on Parker’s connections to High Desert Cannabis, Roberts said marijuana businesses are prohibited from using someone with a clean record to act as the official owner while someone with a more extensive criminal record runs it unofficially.
Roberts said this practice is called “hidden ownership,” and while it’s previously been used for businesses that sell alcohol, it would apply to marijuana businesses, too.
Although difficult to prove, if a marijuana business failed to disclose someone who was involved in ownership with a relevant criminal record, it could lead the OLCC to suspend the business’ license.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.