A flurry of finger-pointing broke out Wednesday afternoon at a Portland City Council hearing over how the city has allocated millions of its cannabis tax dollars toward racial justice since the 2020 George Floyd protests.
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps on Wednesday proposed cutting millions in funding for a racial justice advocacy group called Reimagine Oregon that’s slated to receive $5.8 million in carried-over cannabis tax funds from the city.
The City Council approved the budget amendment by a 3-2 majority, with Commissioners Mapps, Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan voting in support of it. The council will vote on the entire amended city budget next week.
Mapps claimed Reimagine Oregon has failed for four years to get dollars out the door. But the executive director of the advocacy group, Justice Rajee, placed the blame on the Office of Civic & Community Life, which oversees the city’s cannabis tax fund. Rajee said the office had not been a “partner” in getting the money distributed—and said the past three years of city funds will go toward supporting small businesses and economic prosperity for the Black community.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio strongly opposed the proposal, saying the city “hasn’t showed up” to help Reimagine Oregon get the funds allocated. Mayor Ted Wheeler said he only learned of the proposed cut Wednesday morning. “It will be my intention to vote no,” the mayor said.
Mapps asked Rajee how many small businesses the advocacy group had helped with the city dollars so far.
“None, because they’re still at the city,” Rajee said. “We’re trying to figure out the process to get the dollars out of the city...so we can activate the funds.”
Oversight of the cannabis tax fund will be transferred in July to Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development office. The office is overseen by Commissioner Rubio, who brought in the office’s equity director to vouch for Reimagine Oregon’s funding. Chabre Vickers said that her office has concrete plans to assist Reimagine Oregon in pushing dollars out the door, but admitted that “the actual grant agreement to start working on this [project] wasn’t actually signed until Dec. 14, 2022...I wasn’t here then, but what I can say is that we have a team in place to help Reimagine move these dollars forward.”