In November 2016, voters approved Ballot Measure 26-180 allowing the city to collect a 3% local tax on recreational cannabis sales.
The measure didn’t lay out exactly how much each category would get and the language was intentionally broad to meet the changing needs and future priorities.
The Portland City Council also established expectations that the public would be involved in tax allocation decisions and links between the source and used of the tax revenue and spending decisions would be clear to the public.
The measure requires a yearly city council vote on how the money is allocated and it requires annual reporting to the public, along with periodic audits.
But the measure said the tax revenue should be used in the following three areas:
- Drug and alcohol education and treatment programs, including services that help with access to drug and alcohol education and treatment, and rehabilitation and employment readiness programs.
- Public safety -- including police, fire, and transportation -- to protect the community from unsafe drivers. Examples include Portland Police Bureau DUII training and enforcement, street infrastructure projects to improve safety and initiatives to reduce impacts of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Support for minority and women-owned businesses, and providing economic opportunities and education to communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition of cannabis. Priorities are record-clearing, workforce development and industry support and technical assistance.
Horton’s wife Jeanette wrote the ballot measure that dictated how the cannabis tax revenue should be spent.
“This particular initiative is very close to my heart,” she said. “The legal cannabis world is a boon of cannabis taxes and there are communities that really need that money in order to grow and contribute to your city and state economies.”
Jeanette also runs a nonprofit called NuLeaf Project, which was created after the tax passed and was empowered by Prosper Portland through the city to award money earmarked for racial and social justice efforts.
Their mission is to address multi-generation economic harm the War on Drugs had on minority communities, particularly African American communities, through reinvesting cannabis taxes into those communities. Jeanette said NuLeaf accomplishes that by supporting minority-owned cannabis businesses through education, mentoring and direct grants.
"The harm done to communities of color, specifically African American communities with over-policing, over-targeting of cannabis arrests has been documented to be economic harm that lasts for generations," Jeanette said, "An arrest and incarceration impacts your ability to get loans for school, impacts your ability to get loans for businesses, impacts your ability to get housing, it stifles your job opportunities."
With the tax revenue, NuLeaf has awarded four grants to minority-owned cannabis businesses so far; there were two big grants and two small grants that went to licensed businesses trying to grow. But those “big” grants were each capped at $30,000.
“Capital has made a big difference for these businesses’ ability to succeed,” Jeanette said. “People of color have less access to capital versus what white people have access to, and that really is the game changer.”