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Portland Begins Recovery Path for a Sustainable Cannabis Industry


Despite Oregon’s cannabis market being valued at $1 billion in 2021, the industry’s growth has been hampered by the triple uppercut-punch of COVID-19 impacts, record wildfires, and a rise in burglaries, leaving 20,000 full-time cannabis workers and the businesses that employ them without a lifeline. Oregon’s cannabis businesses, primarily locally-owned small businesses, were ineligible to access federal relief funding for disasters or emergencies. Bank funding is also largely unavailable to cannabis businesses due to federal prohibition. These issues led to the City’s Cannabis Program collaborating with multiple cannabis community-based organizations to creatively ensure the industry’s future economic success.

In December, the City of Portland became the first government entity in the U.S. to support cannabis recovery by using cannabis tax revenue when the Office of Community & Civic Life earned unanimous City Council support to allocate $1.33 million to launch the Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) grants. CERF is a one-time allocation of cannabis tax revenue to provide equitable economic relief to an industry that has endured the same disasters other industries are weathering.

In the last two months, Civic Life supported three community partners to open the grant application process to the public on Feb. 1.

How does the Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) Work?

Grant applications are available for Portland licensed cannabis businesses, ancillary businesses, and permitted workers who have been impacted by emergencies in 2020 and 2021.

The entire grant process, including the review of grant applications, administration, and fund disbursement, will be solely managed by three community-based organizations: NuProject, The Initiative, and Oregon Cannabis Association.

“These funds are a smart investment, needed now to retain a strong, local cannabis economy populated with diverse-owned companies. The CERF program gets the ‘what’ right – an equitable investment – and the ‘ how’ – granting funds to culturally-specific organizations to build capacity in serving Portland’s historically excluded communities. Aligned to this, all individual grants will be serviced via a partnership between NuProject and Cannabis Workers Coalition (CWC), an organization with a mission to protect and advance equitable workers’ rights.”

– Jeannette Ward Horton, CEO of NuProject


The City’s Cannabis Program funded the creation of the CERF to help hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees as they continue to face multiple crises. This infographic was co-created with the Cannabis Workers Coalition to show the variety of employees that are part of cannabis ecosystem.

CERF provides one-time grants of up to $25,000 for eligible cannabis and ancillary businesses within Portland city limits, and up to $5,000 to cannabis industry workers economically impacted by COVID-19, vandalism, robberies, wildfire, and the illness and trauma suffered as a result of these impacts. The City’s Cannabis Program will also provide up to $200,000 in waivers for prior year licensing fees to eligible businesses needing support to stay in compliance.

“I want to thank the Office of Community & Civic Life for once again being innovative and visionary about how to support the survival of these small businesses,” said Commissioner Hardesty during the Dec. 1 Portland City Council meeting that led to a unanimous vote to approve CERF. “I can never talk about the cannabis industry without stressing that it is the only business in our state that pays 85% of their dollars in taxes yet is legally unable to bank like everyone else in the state.”

CERF partners in Oregon

Civic Life provided funding to three uniquely-positioned community partners to launch and manage the CERF program, including grant applications, administration, and fund disbursement. All eligible applicants must apply directly to the CERF Community Partner of their choice for emergency relief funds. Applicants will receive grant funding from only one of the three partner organizations.

You can find more information on how to apply for the Cannabis Emergency Relief Fund here.


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