City Approves Emergency Fund for Cannabis Shops Impacted by Robberies

A record number of Portland dispensaries were robbed, burglarized or looted in the past two years.

Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life on Wednesday announced that the City Council had voted Dec. 1 to approve a $1.3 million fund that will provide grants to dispensaries impacted by a record-setting number of burglaries and robberies in the past two years, as well as the pandemic and wildfires.

That makes the city of Portland the first local government in the U.S. to allocate cannabis tax revenue to an emergency fund for cannabis retailers, according to the Office of Community & Civic Life.

“We want Oregon to become the leading cannabis ecosystem in the country, but we have many underlying vulnerabilities that need to be addressed this year for us to succeed,” said Meghan Walstatter, interim executive director of the Oregon Cannabis Association. “Cannabis-related businesses remain one of the few that did not qualify for COVID-related aid nor have the option to file for bankruptcy.”

In March, WW reported extensively on an alarming trend: Data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission revealed that more than 100 Portland-area dispensaries had been robbed, burglarized or looted in the prior 10 months.

In its announcement on Wednesday, the Office of Community & Civic Life said those numbers have increased: Over 200 establishments have been burglarized, which reflects a 115% increase between 2019 and 2020.

Dispensaries are particularly vulnerable to these crimes because, due to the federal prohibition of cannabis, they must deal exclusively in cash. Some retailers—like the Fidus dispensary in Multnomah Village, one of whose employees was robbed at gunpoint in August 2020—must resort to keeping over six figures’ worth of cash in the store because federal law prohibits them from depositing their proceeds in a bank.

The federal restrictions also bar cannabis retailers from state or federal COVID relief funding. That’s why the city’s new emergency fund, described as one of the country’s first “cannabis safety nets,” is particularly important for dispensaries.

“Despite record tax revenue growth for the state, 2020 and 2021 have proven to be the toughest years for the operators in Oregon’s cannabis industry,” Dasheeda Dawson, the city’s cannabis program supervisor said. “Our bureau has worked hard to pilot a much-needed ‘safety net’ to protect as many Portland-based cannabis companies as possible.”