PORTLAND, Ore.—The Cannabis Policy Oversight Team (CPOT) was convened in 2019 to provide recommendations on future cannabis policy to the Office of Community & Civic Life. In the past two years, this volunteer advisory body has provided insight and policy recommendations that strive to deliver industry diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability for the city’s total benefit.

CPOT issued their annual Cannabis Policy Report and are simultaneously welcoming six new CPOT members to navigate the industry’s complex issues during the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19 which led to an increase in theft of cannabis businesses, and lingering impacts from September’s Oregon wildfires.

Cannabis Policy Oversight Team’s Annual Report Highlights Three Goals for 2021

Authored by CPOT, the annual report summarized their work and findings of 2020, but highlighted three goals for 2021:

1) Eliminate Racial Disparities: Lobby, support, and implement the Oregon Cannabis Equity Act (House Bill 3112) by providing equal opportunity for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) ownership in the growing cannabis industry and invest in communities disproportionately impacted by over-policing and criminalization.

2) Support Portland Businesses & Nonprofits: Provide tenant protections and emergency relief resources for small businesses impacted by multiple break-ins due to COVID-19 and the aftermath of the September 2020 wildfires.

3) Advance Environmental & Climate Justice to Build an Equitable Future: Immediately pursue the development of city- and statewide environmental sustainability standards for cannabis businesses and allocate resources to ensure businesses can meet them.

Undoing Damage Caused by Cannabis Prohibition While Advancing Equity

Repairing the harm caused by decades of inequity from the War on Drugs and cannabis prohibition is the goal of the Cannabis Social Equity Act introduced in early February by a coalition of legislators in the Oregon State Legislature. HB 3112 is the culmination of months of work led by former State Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spencer including numerous cannabis companies, the Oregon Cannabis Association, the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, the City of Portland, Urban League, and law students from Willamette University.“This is a unique opportunity for Oregon to pass the most comprehensive cannabis equity program in the country. Legalizing cannabis was step one. Investing cannabis taxes into economic and opportunity-building for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities and automatic expungement for thousands of Oregonians starts to repair the harm of over-policing and cannabis criminalization.” said Jeannette Ward Horton, Executive Director of the NuLeaf project and the chair of the 80-member coalition working to pass HB 3112.

In addition to their support of HB 3112, the Office of Community & Civic Life proposed adding $900,000 in one‐time cannabis tax allocation for a Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund in their budget request report for FY2021-22 to support multiple cannabis businesses impacted by the aftermath of COVID-19 and Oregon wildfires. This support is critical because unlike other businesses, the cannabis industry is not eligible for federal COVID relief.

In June, the Office of Community & Civic Life will announce the recipients of the Social Equity & Educational Development (SEED) Grant initiatives. The $1 million SEED Grant works toward enrolling nonprofits and businesses to help advance equity and undo cannabis prohibition. City Council will approve the allocations of $800K in community grants and $200K in technical assistance programs.

Creating Cannabis-Positive Culture During Black Lives Matter

On Feb. 1, the global Black Lives Matter movement was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against racism and racially motivated violence,” adding that the movement’s “call for systemic change have spread around the world, forcing other countries to grapple with racism within their own societies.”

The message of BLM, as well as many other community-led racial justice movements, has demanded that society examine the complex racist systems that continue to drive perceptions, punishment, and violence against BIPOC communities. As we examine these systems, it is important to recognize how our legal system has overwhelmingly punished BIPOC communities for cannabis use and sales. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) concluded in a 2020 report that cannabis use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, but on average Black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession.

In 2019, the Cannabis Policy Oversight Team (CPOT) was created to provide recommendations on future cannabis policy to the Office of Community & Civic Life. Their work centers equity within the Portland cannabis industry by advocating for unbiased access and outcomes in the following substantive areas: regulations and policy; government budget allocation; community outreach and education; and economic development.

CPOT recognizes that to change outcomes, better data is needed to change perceptions, behaviors and systems.

“We have strongly recommended that the City build a fact-based chronicle to shape a more cannabis-positive culture so that all stakeholders can work collaboratively and transparently to undo the negative societal, economic, environmental and human impacts that have disproportionately affected Portland’s BIPOC families and communities,” said CPOT Chair Al Ochosa.

The CPOT report referenced data (see figure on left) from the recent “Patterns in the Portland Police Bureau Force Data Summary Reports” finding that, while Black people comprise 5.8% of Portland’s population, 16.8% of drivers stopped in the first quarter of 2020 were Black. That jumped to 18.4% in the second quarter.

In addition, another national report found Portland to be the fifth worst in racial arrest disparities, after Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco and Charlotte.
“Historically, cannabis prohibition, arrests, and citations overwhelmingly choked communities of various racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said Dasheeda Dawson, Cannabis Program Supervisor. “These policies, systems and cultural norms from our past had lasting consequences for individuals, families, and communities in sustaining a decent quality of life. The stain of a cannabis-related incident on their criminal record led to loss of work, loss of freedom, denied loans, and denied housing.”

How Portlanders Can Help Undo Racial Bias and Reduce Inequalities

“Our office is dedicated to building inclusive structures, adaptive governance, and advancing the common good—especially for communities who have been disproportionally overlooked or harmed by past government policies,” said Office of Community & Civic Life Director Suk Rhee. “This is why we are so excited about the SEED Grant Fund. As the first city-funded and city-led program to prioritize racial equity, it is a necessary step toward reallocating funds, empowering more community and business partners, and helping to address systemic racial injustice in Portland.”

This spring, the City will announce the recipients of the Social Equity & Educational Development (SEED) Grant Fund — the very first program in the U.S. to integrate equity programming within a cannabis regulatory office to undo discriminatory policies that led to cannabis prohibition and criminalization. The grant is funded from a portion of Measure 26-180 which directs a 3% tax on Portland’s recreational cannabis.

For more information, and to apply for the community and business grants, visit the City’s Cannabis Program website.

HB 3112 is a priority bill informed by the City of Portland. To show your support, visit cannabisequityoregon.com and sign the petition encouraging Governor Brown and the Oregon Legislature to pass the measure.

The Office of Community & Civic Life (Civic Life) connects the people of Portland with their City government to promote the common good. Our programs create a culture of collaboration, expanding possibilities for all Portlanders to contribute their knowledge, experience, and creativity to solve local problems and make life better in the city we all share. www.portlandoregon.gov/civic/