Unite Oregon Helping Lead the Call to Divest Cannabis Taxes from the Portland Police Bureau

As civil rights protests following the death of George Floyd have entered the third week of people taking to the streets, a remarkable set of reforms have already occurred. Those of us that have been involved with drug policy and criminal justice reform for awhile understand that much-needed changes can take years, if not decades, if happen even at all. To see new laws and regulations already implemented across the nation, from Louisville, Kentucky, passing the Breonna Taylor Law banning no-knock raids to New York finally making the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act law, and even some action taking place at the federal level, has been heartening. But much more needs to be done.

Unite Oregon has helped take the lead on reforming police funding, including calling upon the City of Portland to divest local cannabis tax dollars from funding the Portland Police Bureau. Unite’s petition calling for action includes this provision: “Divest City of Portland Cannabix Tax funds from the PPB budget and invest them into reparations for those harmed by the War on Drugs, which disproportionately targeted BIPOC communities.”

As OPB reported Portland’s local cannabis tax hasn’t been split up as voters’ intended:

When Portland voters approved a 3% tax on recreational cannabis sales in 2016, they expected the funds would benefit marijuana business owners and individuals who were negatively affected when cannabis was illegal.

report from the Portland City Auditor reveals that’s not the case. Instead, most of the collected taxes have gone toward shortages in the city’s general fund and specifically to police and transportation programs.

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Tax revenue of $3.6 million in the 2018 fiscal year and $4.6 million in 2019 primarily went toward public safety. Small business/prohibition effects received only 16% of the revenue and drug and alcohol programs received 5%.

The Portland City Council is expected to divest the local cannabis tax from the Portland Police Bureau’s budget, but as usual in the fight for civil rights, much more needs to be done. As Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called a special legislative session to deal with police accountability and the coronavirus pandemic, we can expect the issue of cannabis dollars funding law enforcement to stay in the headlines.

UPDATE: The Portland City Council did indeed cut $15 million from the police budget, including local cannabis tax dollars.

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