Portland, Oregon took a big step towards properly funding its social equity in cannabis program on Wednesday. Its city council earmarked $631,000 in grants to go to the grant program that has been established to ensure that people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs have a place in the marijuana industry.
The decision comes in the midst of a growing cannabis tax revenue windfall for Oregon. During the 2019 fiscal year, the state’s Department of Revenue took in over $102 million. That money comes from a 17 percent tax on marijuana sales, with cities and counties permitted to add an extra three percent should they see fit. It’s expected to amount to $284.2 million during 2021-2023.
Typically, 40 percent of that money goes to schools, 25 percent to various mental health and addiction services, and 35 percent to different law enforcement agencies. But a report by the Portland city auditor found that in the state’s largest city, 79 percent of cannabis tax revenue was being channeled into transportation and law enforcement.
The People’s Voice Has Been Heard
The city council members’ vote on Wednesday was an attempt to redistribute funds according to Oregon voters’ wishes. In 2016, cannabis tax measure 26-180 was passed, declaring that a three percent tax on cannabis sales could go to supporting social equity measures within the marijuana industry. Voters approved the measure, which included support for women and persons of color-owned businesses, safety measures against unsafe drivers, and addiction services.
One of the qualifying factors for the entry of small businesses into the program is that people with a prior cannabis conviction comprise either at least 25 percent of ownership or 20 percent of staff hours.
The recently approved $631,000 will go to support retroactive justice for the negative effects of cannabis prohibition. Similar funding has been used to help level the cannabis industry playing field in a variety of ways.
“You already have hundreds of Portlanders who have been directly benefiting from this tax funding,” said Brandon Goldner, who is a supervisor of the city’s Cannabis Program. “Whether it’s people getting workforce development, help getting education in the construction field, or whether it’s people who are helping – getting help clearing their records and expunging their records.”
Given Portland’s history of racially biased cannabis-related policing, the programs seem particularly crucial.
“Many studies have shown that adults across races use cannabis at similar rates,” POC cannabis advocate Jeanette Ward Horton shared with the attendees of the council meeting on Wednesday. “However, we can see […] the disproportionate targeting first of African American communities. Second, native American communities.”
Horton’s organization the NuLeaf Project was established to support cannabis business owners of color, and runs a mentoring program, gives out grants, and runs a business accelerator program that aims to build technical skills in future entrepreneurs.