Portland City Council members heeded demands to defund the police – a rallying cry for those protesting police killings of black Americans – by approving an amendment to the city’s proposed budget that would divert cannabis tax revenues away from law enforcement.

City lawmakers voted to cut $27 million from the police department’s $244 million budget, though one city official, Chloe Eudaly, voted against the measure. She insisted the proposed cuts do not go far enough.

The city council’s move follows recent revelations that a sizeable chunk of marijuana tax dollars are funding Portland law enforcement. A 2019 report from the Portland City Auditor found that 79 percent of cannabis tax revenue went towards funding “public safety”, with nearly half of this amount ending up with the Portland Police Bureau. Further inquiries revealed that a lot of this money was used to plug shortfalls in the police department’s budget. This comes in spite of the fact that the city passed an ordinance in 2016 apportioning these funds solely to support small businesses, treat substance misuse, and improve public safety.

Portland’s annual budget has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd and demands to defund the police and use the money for social programs. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said her office has received 61,000 emails from city residents about the budget, and 742 people signed up to give testimony via Zoom at the city’s budget hearing.

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) took to Twitter to urge council members to divest cannabis tax dollars from Portland’s police force.

The MCBA also issued a press release calling on municipalities across the country to look at their own finances and reallocate cannabis tax revenues away from law enforcement towards social equity programs.

“This is not just an Oregon problem, this is a national disgrace,” said MCBA President Jason Ortiz. “We call on all cannabis justice activists to investigate their municipal finances, their local cannabis company investments, and discover if and how dollars meant for community uplift are being sent to law enforcement. This mockery of justice is a shameful moment in our history and we will not allow it to be our future.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty welcomed the city council vote as the beginning of a new approach towards public safety.

“For too long we’ve invested so many resources to a law and order approach that has been unjust, unfair, and violent particularly towards communities of color, especially the Black community,” Hardesty said. “We simply cannot police our way out of inequities. Today, we disrupt that pattern. Today, we begin to collectively reimagine and build towards community safety and police alternatives.”

The budget awaits final approval, but is expected to pass in a vote which does not require unanimous support.

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