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Portland City Council Establishes Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund

Portland Community Investment wide

The Portland City Council two weeks ago announced a $1.33 million “Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund” (CERF), allocated from the city’s cannabis tax revenue, for local cannabis businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising rates of robberies and vandalism at cannabis businesses in Portland. Applications open February 1, 2022, and funding will prioritize businesses owned by historically disadvantaged persons (minority, women, veteran, small business and/or low income). The industry is in dire need of these grants as continued federal prohibition means cannabis business cannot receive any of the $114 million in federal COIVD-19 relief funding distributed by the City of Portland.

Funding Eligibility

CERF is a one-time grant program providing up to $25,000 in financial support for licensed cannabis businesses located in Portland. Cannabis businesses applying for funding must meet one of the following qualifications:

  1. Operated by a historically disadvantaged owner (minority, women, veteran, small business and/or low income), or
  2. Hold three (3) or less pending or active Marijuana Regulatory Licenses issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), and
  • Had annual receipts of less than $2 million in annual revenue for calendar year 2020 if the business began operating on or after January 1, 2020
  • Had annual receipts of less than $2 million in annual revenue for calendar year 2021 if the business began operating on or after January 1, 2021

Grants of up to $5,000 are available to individuals currently working in Portland’s cannabis industry or worked in the industry but lost employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These grants will repay front line workers for the sacrifices they have and continue to make through the pandemic, and while assisting front line workers is a concern that needs addressing in all industries, the issue is especially relevant to cannabis as many lower income earners are hourly employees who do not receive healthcare from their employer. Individuals are eligible for CERF grants if they meet one of the following qualifications:

1. Currently work for an OLCC licensed business, and

  • Have an approved and active OLCC Marijuana Worker Permit, and
    • Member of a historically disadvantaged population, o
    • Annual Income does not exceed 80% of median income for the City of Portland metro area

2. Must have previously worked on behalf of an OLCC licensed producer, processor, wholesaler, or retailer and laid off and/or terminated after March 2020, and

  • Have proof of an OLCC Marijuana Worker Permit that expired after March 2020, and
    • Member of a historically disadvantaged population, or
    • Annual Income does not exceed 80% of median income for the City of Portland metro area

Grant Distribution and Community Investment

The City of Portland is partnering with three community-based organizations to distribute CERF funds: The Oregon Cannabis Association (OCA), Oregon’s largest cannabis trade association; The Initiative, a business accelerator whose mission focuses on supporting woman-owned cannabis businesses; and The NuLeaf Project, an organization dedicated to building generational wealth via the legal cannabis industry for Black and brown communities targeted by over policing and the War on Drugs. The Cannabis Workers Coalition will also distribute $150,000 in CERF funds and work with the NuLeaf Project on issuing grants to support low wage workers in the cannabis industry.

Distributing funds through equity focused organizations is a step in the right direction for Portland’s cannabis equity program, which came under scrutiny in the summer of 2020 when it was revealed that Portland police were receiving approximately $2 million per year in cannabis tax revenue. In response, the Portland city council earlier this year voted to reallocate that portion of the city’s cannabis revenue to the Social Equity and Educational Development (SEED) initiative. SEED grants are given to organizations focused on community justice and investment into Portland’s BIPOC communities. With this added funding the SEED program will award $1.8 million in grants by the end of the 2021, up from $548,094 in 2019-20.

Portland’s decision to refocus its cannabis tax revenue into communities impacted by cannabis criminalization will surely receive criticism from law enforcement. One of the stated reasons for the CERF program is to assist cannabis businesses struggling with increased incidents of vandalism and robberies. The irony of this is that law enforcement in Portland and beyond are known for not investigating or taking seriously crimes that occur at licensed cannabis operations. The federal government’s continued prohibition is also to blame for increased instances of crimes, as cannabis businesses are forced to work mostly in cash. Portland’s CERF fund and SEED initiative represent a new strategy of lifting Portland’s BIPOC community through direct financial investment.


Oregon is quickly becoming one of the few legalized states to lack a cannabis equity program at the state level. Activists will work in Salem this session to pass legislation that will invest Oregon’s growing cannabis tax revenue into communities targeted by the War on Drugs. In the meantime, Portland’s Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund program will provide the funding that historically disadvantaged businesses owners need, and the program will help develop a diverse market that Oregon will need to succeed in an increasingly national and international market.

You can contact Brett Mulligan at  or 503-488-5424.