Portland City Hall to Begin Disbursing $500,000 in Relief Funds to Small Cannabis Shops and Workers

The industry has suffered more than most because of brazen robberies.

Portland cannabis businesses that are struggling with slumping demand and a rash of robberies can apply next week for $456,901 in relief funds taken from the 3% city tax on weed sales.

A city-funded non-profit called NuProject will begin accepting applications for the money Jan. 16 and will stop Feb. 14. NuProject helps people of color kick-start cannabis businesses. The city council approved the relief last summer, allowing the Office of Community & Civic Life, which administers the city’s cannabis program, to make the funds available through NuProject.

Both small cannabis businesses and employees are eligible for the funds. Licensed businesses within the city limits can get up to $25,000. Individuals can get up to $5,000. The funds are aimed at shops and workers who have suffered because of COVID-19, vandalism, wildfires, robberies, “and the residual effects of illness, trauma, and grief,” Community & Civic Life said in a press release.

Cannabis shops had a rough go last year. Sales ebbed as the pandemic eased. Robberies increased, meantime, as thieves targeted the cash-rich businesses, sometimes driving through front windows in smash-and-grab raids to get cash and product to resell on the streets.

“There were stores boarding up and saying, ‘We’re closed until this is over,’” said Christina Coursey, interim manager of the Portland cannabis program.

The aid package is the second one approved by the Portland City Council. Last fiscal year, the council approved sending $1.3 million from cannabis taxes to help shops and workers.

The aid is aimed at boutiques, not large chains. Shops must have less than $2 million in annual revenue and may not hold more than three licenses from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Businesses owned by people who are historically disadvantaged are exempted from those limits, however.

Businesses can use the money to pay rent or make mortgage payments, pay utility bills, cover payroll, repair damage after break-ins, or pay for trauma counseling related to robberies or wildfires.

Relief money may not be used to hire armed security guards, buy guns, purchase cannabis product, or pay taxes or lobbying expenses. Entertainment is off-limits, too.

Emergency funds will be available this month and must be used by June.

Coursey expects the money to go quickly. Last year, the program got $2.1 million in requests.

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