PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council adopted a plan on Wednesday to distribute $1.33 million in relief funding to local cannabis businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased property crime and wildfire damage in the past two years. The funding comes from a 3% local tax on retail cannabis that Portland voters approved via a ballot measure in 2016.
In a presentation to the council, Portland Cannabis Licensing and Policy Coordinator Christina Coursey noted that Portland received $114 million in federal CARES Act funding to distribute to small businesses during the early months of the pandemic, but almost none of it was able to go the cannabis industry because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Cannabis retailers were deemed “essential” and able to stay open during the initial pandemic shutdown, she said, but they still struggled with staff shortages due to the pandemic, and as all-cash businesses, they were especially vulnerable to the increases in crime and vandalism that hit Portland in the past two years. The 2020 wildfire season was also devastating to Oregon’s cannabis industry as the fires impacted some pot farms around the state, she said.
Coursey estimated that 75% of Portland’s 347 cannabis license holders would be eligible for relief from the new program, known as the Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund.
She outlined a list of qualifying criteria for program applicants, including that the recipients must be licensed and in good standing, and located in Portland or headquartered in Oregon and doing business in Portland. The criteria are also set up to make sure business owners from historically disadvantaged populations are prioritized.
Individuals will be eligible to receive up to $5,000 and business entities will be eligible to receive up to $25,000. The funds can be spend on various expenses including personal protective equipment, rent or mortgage payments, utility, insurance or payroll expenses, repairs after vandalism and extra security measures (not including armed security guards or purchasing guns).
The funds will be available starting Feb. 1 and must be fully distributed by June. The city is partnering with three external organizations – NuLeaf, The Initiative and the Oregon Cannabis Association to distribute the funds, an approach which Coursey said would allow for faster distribution with lower administrative costs.