News, Politics

Portland Funded its Police Department With Cannabis Tax Revenue

July 23, 2020 03:03 pm ET
Portland Funded its Police Department With Cannabis Tax Revenue

When we talk about cannabis legalization providing an opportunity for criminal justice reform that includes social equity – paying the cops with cannabis profits is definitely not what most had in mind. Thankfully, in Portland, Oregon officials will no longer use cannabis-derived tax funds for the city’s police budget. Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a redirection of $12 million from police budgets toward directly supporting communities of color.

Is This an Appropriate Use of Funds?

According to the Oregon Cannabis Association (OCA), police budgets received more than $2 million directly from cannabis tax proceeds last year – despite the city passing a measure in 2016 stipulating that those funds should be designated for substance misuse treatment, public safety, and small business development. A 2019 report from the Portland City Auditor, 79 percent of marijuana tax revenue has gone to public safety, including about 46 percent directly to the Portland Police Bureau.

After giving the police nearly a half-million in the first year of legalization for a ‘service coordination team for access to drug/alcohol treatment,’ there were no cannabis tax dollars spent on drug and alcohol treatment in year two.

“A budget is a moral document,” said Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in a statement. “This is something I’ve said repeatedly since entering office in 2019. Today’s city council vote has always been about aligning our budget with our values, and today, we took a vital step towards that realignment and towards collectively re-envisioning of what community safety can look like through our budget. That took the form of divesting funds from the Portland Police Bureau budget and reallocating the funds for our communities and police alternatives.”

Does Legal Cannabis Create More Work For Police?

Police departments had often argued legal cannabis requires more labor dedicated to catching drivers under the influence of cannabis. Studies on the topic, however, deliver conflicting results. In a study based on three legal states, published in the Addiction Journal, reported there was only one additional traffic death per million residents the first year of legalization. Scientists have since found this increase was temporary and rates returned to normal after a year.

Police Benefit From Cannabis Legalization in Ways You Probably Don’t Expect

Research shows that no longer enforcing cannabis policies will allow cops to redirect their attention to solving more pressing crimes such as burglary, theft, and property crimes. Amid the recent widespread calls to defund law enforcement in response to police killings of people of color (POC) such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Portland local lawmakers approved the $27 million in cuts as part of the spending legislation. Across the U.S., there are active conversations about the relationship between cannabis criminalization and racial injustice in policing. 

The head of a federal health agency recently acknowledged racial disparities in drug enforcement and the harm that such disparate practices have caused and NORML has asked her to go on the record to further admit that this trend in criminalization is more harmful than cannabis itself.

Post Your Comments

Rebecca Zeidman says:

Thank you for this so much!! I’ve been looking for these kinds of cohesive details about connections between legalized adult use cannabis tax revenue and law enforcement budgets!! Much appreciated! Thank you for your succinct but thorough details 🙂


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