City awards $1.3 million to offset losses
Budtenders Cheyenne Hillard and Justin Jackson begin inventorying the sales floor before the store opens in the Burlingame neighborhood of southeast Portland. PHOTO COURTESY PORTLAND OFFICE OF COMMUNITY & CIVIC LIFE
Portland has becomes the first government jurisdiction in the country to allocate cannabis tax revenue to help marijuana businesses and workers as they to endure negative impacts from multiple robberies, COVID-19 and other issues.
According city officials, a total of 200 cannabis retail establishments have been burglarized since March of last year—an average of 10 burglaries a month—with many establishments being hit multiple times.
Unlike restaurants, retailers, gyms and professional service-oriented companies, cannabis-linked companies are unable to file insurance claims when their stores are damaged or money is stolen. Cannabis businesses are also ineligible to receive federal or state funded relief for issues related to the 2020 wildfires or COVID-19.
During this week’s City Council meeting, commissioners approved $1.33 million in Cannabis tax revenue for grants to locally licensed cannabis businesses and employees that have been impacted by the emergencies.
The financial help is geared to help marijuana businesses remain open and continue to grow their revenue, and ultimately the city's cannabis tax revenue which goes back toward community and business grants programs, like Social Equity & Educational Development (SEED) Initiatives, funds supporting economic and educational development of Black, Indigenous and Latin communities, which were the most impacted by historical cannabis prohibitions.
“Cannabis businesses are required to pay taxes on their total sales, and this includes money that has been stolen,” said Oregon Cannabis Association Interim Executive Director Meghan Walstatter. “We are grateful for Portland City Council’s support as the cannabis industry works to recover from multiple crisis.”
COVID-19 also affected the cannabis workforce similar to what we’re seeing in the food service, retail and hospitality industries, according to Cannabis Workers Coalition Executive Director Savina Monet. “Many owners and employees tested positive for COVID or required taking off work to care for loved ones who required care. This resulted in many stores temporarily shutting down or having reduced hours.”
Chistina Coursey, a cannabis licensing and policy coordinator, said the burglaries have been particularly devastating to witness.
“Each case has been growing more and more violent. Many employees and owners are growing fearful, small businesses owners are afraid one more time could put them out of business,” Coursey said.
The city’s Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund will provide one-time grants of up to $25,000 for small sized licensed cannabis businesses within Portland city limits, and up to $5,000 to cannabis industry workers economically impacted from COVID-19, vandalism, robberies, wildfire, and the residual effects of illness, trauma, and grief suffered from such impacts.
The city’s Cannabis Program will also provide waivers from prior year licensing fees for businesses to stay in compliance and not endure further economic hardship.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses have dealt with many difficulties as they fight to survive, and our local cannabis industry has had to deal with unique challenges," said Civic Life Commissioner-in-Charge Jo Ann Hardesty. "These include being ineligible for federal relief dollars and operating under federal laws that often force shops to operate in a cash only environment – making them frequent targets of burglaries. This gap has compelled the City to action and I’m proud of the work by the Office of Community & Civic Life to create a safety net for our cannabis industry and workers through the Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund.”
Civic Life will work with three community partners --NuLeaf Project, The Initiative and, the Oregon Cannabis Association--to implement the grant administrative process. Grant applications are expected to open on Feb. 1.