Defunding the Police from Cannabis Dollars

Wouldn’t it be great if legal weed helped give back to the community? That’s what the city of Portland thought when we approved an additional 3% tax on marijuana sales specifically so we could reinvest that revenue into drug treatment programs, support for neighborhood small businesses, and public safety. What a great deal, right? Not only is weed legal, but every time you buy it you’re directly funding:

  • Services that increase access to drug and alcohol education and treatment programs
  • Programs that support rehabilitation and employment readiness
  • Incubator programs for women-owned and minority-owned businesses
  • Police DUI training and enforcement

It feels good to make a difference, but how would you feel if you found out your money was actually being used to fund the police? A 2019 Portland City Auditor report showed that the 3% tax brought in $4.6 million dollars that year and Portland spent $2.2 million of it on the Portland Police Bureau for “intoxicants training and traffic enforcement personnel.” According to the audit, only 15% of Portland’s marijuana tax revenue in 2019 went to small businesses and communities who were disproportionately affected by prohibition. That left just 5% to fund drug and alcohol education and treatment programs.

In June 2020, amidst protests for racial justice, the Minority Cannabis Business Association declared that was unacceptable. “It is outrageous that in a city like Portland we are funding the disruption of our own communities with money meant to uplift us” Dr. Rachel Knox, MCBA Board Member, said in a statement. “We must end this insult to our communities and focus 100% of those dollars to a health equity framework immediately.” According to Jeanette Ward, NuLeaf Project Executive Director and MCBA member, “research has proven that training and transparency methods are not effective solutions.” Under the leadership of Dr. Knox, the MCBA demanded that the city of Portland eliminate all of the funding the Portland Police Bureau receives from marijuana taxes.

In response, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced that the city’s new budget would divest another $15 million from the Portland Police Bureau, reallocating $4.8 million to fund Portland Street Response, $1 million for Black youth leadership development and $1 million for houseless community participatory budgeting. This reduction, in addition to cuts made earlier in the year, means the Portland Police Bureau will receive 27 million fewer dollars next year than they did this year. The budget was approved on June 11 2020 with only one “no” vote.

But the battle’s not over yet. MCBA President Jason Ortiz called for solidarity in the face of what is clearly a national problem, saying, “We call on all cannabis justice activists to investigate their municipal finances, their local cannabis company investments, and discover if and how dollars meant for community uplift are being sent to law enforcement. This mockery of justice is a shameful moment in our history, and we will not allow it to be our future.”