In a time when our country seems deeply and intractably divided, there are a few things we can all agree on: (1) puppies and kittens are super swell; (2) we all miss Prince something fierce; and (3) the tax on cannabis is really high. But part of the deal when we legalized the stuff is that we agreed to impose these taxes, so if that's still upsetting to you, maybe it's time to use some of that weed you just paid a 20 percent tax on.
But don't go down that dab-it hole(™) of frustration just yet. Because some really good things are about to start happening with some of that tax revenue, including the chance for some to get a piece of the tax pie in order to right age-old wrongs and help level the playing field. That kind of corrective is rare these days, so listen up.
Portland's city council just approved the dispersal of a chunk of local tax revenue collected from sales of recreational cannabis and cannabis products. Back in November 2016, we passed a ballot measure for this tax, with the idea that a portion of the revenue would be used for the following: "Support for neighborhood small businesses, especially women-owned and minority-owned businesses, including but not limited to business incubator programs, management training, and job training opportunities; and providing economic opportunity and education to communities disproportionately-impacted by cannabis prohibition."
Following community input, an amount of $500,000 from this tax is being distributed as grant money through two separate channels. $350,000 of it is being allocated to two areas, managed and distributed through the City of Portland. The first is record clearing, to "undo direct harm to those disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition by removing barriers to housing, employment, and education through legal support including, but not limited to, expungement, fine reduction, and charge reduction."
Having an arrest record in 2018 for an old cannabis charge in Oregon is a dumpster fire of absurdity, and arrests and convictions for such charges disproportionately affect communities of color. Such a conviction can result in being denied approval for renting an apartment, or can prevent you from landing a job that would have enabled you to pay the rent on the place you just got rejected for. It's also harder for past convicts to receive educational loans and grants so they can get higher paying jobs, buy a plane ticket, and move somewhere sane. Truth: Every individual who is legally benefitting financially from cannabis right now should be doing their part to help those who still carry the burden of a cannabis conviction.
The second part of that $350,000 will go toward workforce development, in order to "create pathways for people disproportionately impacted by previous cannabis laws to obtain family-wage jobs, including, but not limited to, training, mentorship, and other workforce reentry support."
True family-wage jobs are more sought after, and less viable, than ever before. That someone grew, sold, or enjoyed cannabis prior to legalization and was penalized for doing so is no reason to establish additional barriers to keep them from obtaining such a job.
The remaining $150,000 "will be allocated to grants in the area of cannabis industry-specific support and technical assistance." This is a separate series of grants that will be managed by Prosper Portland, the economic and urban development agency for the City of Portland. Their mission statement includes making "racial equity the foundation of our community and economic development work. We hold ourselves accountable to Portland's communities of color and others our work has negatively impacted." Full details on industry support and the process for applying for a technical grant have not yet been outlined, but hopefully that information will be provided soon.
Someday, when cannabis is federally legalized, perhaps the taxes on it will be reduced to a rate that's a little more on par with other agricultural products. Until then, while none of use are clapping with glee over a 20 percent tax rate on recreational cannabis, it should soften the blow knowing that a portion of what you are paying is going towards programs such as this.
Applications for the grant money are due by March 30. More info can be found at portlandoregon.gov/brfs/76223, including the downloadable application form and a direct contact for specific questions.