On November 8, 2016, Portland City voters will vote on the allocation of 3% of recreational marijuana sales tax to a number of causes, including the support of minority owned businesses and communities of color. The current state tax on recreational marijuana sales is 25%. The 2015 Oregon Legislature set the new tax base for recreational sales at 17% beginning January 1, 2017, with a provision that cities and counties may refer a local 3% tax to voters in the
November 2016 general election. On June 22, Portland City Council voted to refer to voters the 3% tax on recreational marijuana sales. If the vote passes, it will be the first time this type of cannabis tax appropriation to communities of color will be implemented in the U.S. This is extremely important and appropriate, because statistics show that people of color, especially African American men, have born the brunt of prohibition enforcement. A study from the ACLU shows that blacks are arrested at up to 8 times the amount of whites for cannabis possession, despite nearly identical consumption rates. The comparative length of prisons sentences is also dramatically higher as well. This has had detrimental effects on targeted neighborhoods.
The proposed tax could yield an estimated $3 million – $5 million per year to fund important City services, according to Commissioner Amanda Fritz. She oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which is the bureau responsible for implementing the City’s Marijuana Policy Program. “I understand, if passed, this will be the first time a jurisdiction will dedicate some of its recreational marijuana tax revenue to support individuals and businesses disadvantaged by cannabis prohibition. I will work hard to pass the tax, so that Portland can begin correcting the disparities borne by communities of color. I hope the tax will help many minority-owned small neighborhood businesses thrive.”
Funding would be allocated annually through the City’s public budget process to three purposes:
Drug and alcohol education and treatment programs, including rehabilitation and employment readiness
Public safety investments to reduce impacts of drug and alcohol abuse such as police DUII training and enforcement, support for firefighter paramedics, and street infrastructure projects
Support for innovative 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
Commissioner Fritz worked with cannabis industry representatives, neighbors, City staff and other members of the Council to shape a proposal for how the projected revenue will be spent. This included Chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Jesce Horton, who is also a Portland cannabis business owner. Mr. Horton, who is also a Portland-based dispensary owner, says he is pleased with the plan to dedicate a portion of tax revenues to provide job training, economic opportunities and education to the communities most impacted by the cannabis prohibition. “This tax will open funds to support communities of color, who have been directly targeted by the war on drugs. It’s important that we open opportunities for these communities to benefit from cannabis legalization, in all ways possible.”
Organizations that support these communities will work with MCBA to petition for these tax funds in the yearly budget process. Maggie Tallmadge, of the Coalition for Communities of Color, believes this tax allocation can increase organizations measurable impact on improving the economic and educational standing of communities of color. “The CCC supports the 3% sales tax on recreational marijuana in front of Portland voters in November. Prohibition has had destructive consequences on communities of color…These impacts further compound with deep and broad disparities in our Portland communities of color.”
MCBA will work with other organizations and activists to push for similar provisions to be included all state and local cannabis tax appropriation plans.