Cannabis Guide 2022
This month, a group of nonprofit organizations began distributing $1.33 million in taxpayer funds to Portland cannabis businesses.

The program and its financing, called Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), are unconventional, for the beneficiaries—cannabis-related businesses—, for the relative speed with which they moved through City Hall, and for the lack of transparency as to where those taxpayer dollars have been distributed.

Approved in December 2021, CERF diverts cannabis-generated tax revenue to support the economic recovery of local cannabis businesses, which endured financial troubles caused by wildfires, increased burglaries and the pandemic in the last two years, but were ineligible for federal relief dollars.

"The cannabis industry required the same support available to every other industry during the pandemic," said Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson during an April 11 press conference. "However, cannabis-related businesses were excluded from receiving [federal Small Business Administration] loans, insurance, or COVID-recovery grants."

In a December press release, which outlined the program, the City stated that local cannabis retail stores have been burglarized 200 times since March 2020, with many stores being hit more than once. According to the City, cannabis businesses have not seen a decline in burglaries in 2022.

“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," Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said in the release. The city's cannabis program falls under the Office of Community and Civic Life, which Hardesty oversees. She said some of the challenges 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," and Hardesty described CERF as "a safety net for our cannabis industry."

At the April 11 press conference Dawson noted that CERF is "the first government-funded cannabis industry emergency relief program in the country." Although it's worth noting that California's Department of Cannabis Control already allows businesses to petition for disaster relief, so they might have less need for a dedicated program.

CERF also seeks to prioritize equity-centered distribution, similar to what the government attempted last year with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was meant to prioritize businesses owned by veterans and marginalized groups yet ended in lawsuits, rescinded grants, and what the New York Times labeled "a cloud of errors and confusion."

While CERF comes solely from taxpayer dollars, Portland City Council unanimously voted to distribute the money vicariously, through a group of nonprofits that include the Oregon Cannabis Association, The Initiative, and NuProject. All three declined to say how the money is being distributed.

“We are not providing specifics regarding applicant businesses, businesses awarded grant money, or the amount of those grants,” three organizations wrote, in a joint response to the Mercury's inquiry.

Dawson described this as a way to quickly disperse much-needed funds. "We just opened the application February 1, disbursements are now active. Once we are able to get a report, then that will be public information." she told the Mercury.

City of Portland spokesperson Daniel McArdle-Jaimes explained that the use of these funds will likely be made transparent in the summer, when the city council expects to receive an updated report on the program.

The City of Portland also announced that it will provide up to $200,000 in waivers from licensing fees, to help businesses to stay in compliance during economic hardship.