Detailing The Conflict In Cannabis Programs Funding Police

by Andrew Ward

The relationship between the police and much of America is fracturing. The situations involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other individuals all underscore a narrative that Black America and other disenfranchised communities have been reporting for all too long. The War on Drugs remains a central component in the arrest and imprisonment of so many individuals, including over 1.4 million Americans arrested in 2018 for possession-only offenses.

As protests mount across the country, America has been forced to encounter wrongs it has swept under the rug for generations. Along the way have come realizations, both new and old. A more recent development causing friction in America’s communities is the allocation of state-licensed marijuana market tax revenue. The allocation of such funds caused an uproar on both sides, leading to a mix of legislative responses to date. 

Green Flower spoke with two individuals in the cannabis space with differing views on the issue. 

Calls To Do Away With Cannabis Funding The Police

The silent calls of disenfranchised communities have been amplified as of late, leading many to question why police funding often reaches such tremendous sums. 

Recently, some cities have responded. They include the capital of Texas, Austin, where police budgets were slashed by $150 million in mid-August. The state, which has a limited medical cannabis market, hopes to shift police focus with the cuts. Mayor Steve Adler stated that he wants to place more mental health issues in the hands of capable first responders and social workers, leaving police to contend with the city’s crime. 

Portland, Oregon, a much more cannabis-focused market, did the same after lawmakers were met with protests. While falling short of protestor demands for a $50-million reduction, the City Council eventually agreed on a $15-million cut. 

The approved budget included $453,000 in social equity grants through Portland’s Office of Community and Civic Life. The funding will be provided by a redirection of $2.3 million from its recreational cannabis revenue. The remaining funds that were intended for the police traffic division will instead stay in the marijuana tax fund. 

In Massachusetts, advocates like Commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Shaleen Title, tweeted her displeasure with a July police reform bill, as the House version called for cannabis funds to go toward policing. Title told Marijuana Moment the state could learn from social equity measures made by California and Illinois lawmakers. 

James Watts, the co-founding organizer for National Expungement Week (N.E.W.), supports taking cannabis funding out of police budgets. He elaborated on his stance, stating that police have not proven effective in deterring crime. Instead, Watts believes that other prevention measures could be a solution.

“These funds could be better dispersed among community intervention, financial literacy and healing programs that have proven more effective, valuable, and compassionate than police enforcement,” said N.E.W.’s co-founder. 

Watts delved into why the current model of funding does not help. “These funds could be used to build and heal the communities that have suffered and still suffer most from the War on Drugs. Instead, they will be used to fund the institution that has caused much of this suffering and has profited the most.”

Several Reasons Cited For Police Funding

Using cannabis funds for the police does have its share of support or rationalizations. In June, investigative journalist Chris Roberts discussed how some funding could be considered a political bribe of sorts. Roberts detailed how California used police funding to earn the confidence of suburban and conservative voters. 

In his Forbes piece, he wrote: 

“Twenty percent of the promised $1 billion in annual tax revenue legalization would create was earmarked for “public safety.” Legalization advocates heard an earful from growers and merchants eager to go legal—why reward the crews that had spent decades trying to arrest them?—but it was sold as necessary and practical electoral strategy.”

N.E.W.’s Watts delved into a similar point. “Police revenue takes a cut once cannabis is no longer a crime and police interests are lobbying for cannabis taxes to make up for these losses.”

Conservative voters and citizens in defunded cities could become potential influential voters when faced with the cuts. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that its funding cuts would pull officers from schools, while several teams will be reduced in size or disbanded altogether. OPB also noted that the allocated funds will go toward a police bureau street response team geared toward a new unarmed first responder program, among other initiatives. 

George McCarron is a former police officer with the city of San Jose in California. Today, he is the owner of High Time Security, a subscription service covering a range of cannabis policy matters. McCarron told Green Flower he believes the funding provides the industry with what he called unseen benefits, including law enforcement’s regulation of unlicensed operators. 

McCarron believes there is a misunderstanding over the matter. He contended, “People who don’t have children still pay property taxes on their houses to fund schools because there is a greater benefit to the community as a whole.” McCarron added, “Not understanding the greater benefit of cannabis dollars on the industry creates contention.”

While he supported the current funding, McCarron did empathize with the recent protests on both sides. Saying the Defund the Police movement carries weight for all involved, the security specialist believes now is time for reflection for how to best move forward. 

“This ongoing crisis in many of our major cities is a statement that it is time to look at how those resources are allocated,” McCarron stated. “Some agencies are moving away from having uniformed officers answer calls that do not involve violence or are less urgent quality of life issues…What we need is a reorganization.”

With America’s fragmented legal cannabis system, the result will likely vary by state and municipality. As it is part of the broader discussion around criminal justice and civil rights, the issue is likely to be part of a long-overdue conversation and reform effort in America. These are just the first steps, with many more similar decisions likely to come. 

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