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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Economic Justice and Social Equity in Oregon: Supporting HB 3431

Ensuring economic justice for all Oregonians, particularly those who have been disproportionately affected by the unjust criminalization of cannabis, is of utmost importance.

The Oregon Economic Equity Investment Fund aims to do just that. In the 2022 short session, under the leadership of (then) Senator Akasha Lawrence-Spence, the Oregon legislature passed SB 1579, also known as the Economic Equity Investment Act. This act allocates $15 million to address long-standing economic inequities in four key areas: 1) land and property ownership; 2) entrepreneurship and business development; 3) workforce; and 4) intergenerational wealth building. The funds will be distributed to organizations responsible for implementing programs and providing resources to eligible beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, the Act only received one-time, limited funding, making it difficult for Business Oregon to effectively distribute the funds across the four outlined areas.

In response to this need, advocates are now pushing for the use of cannabis tax revenue to support these culturally responsive programs on an ongoing basis. This has led to the introduction of House Bill 3431. The bill’s first hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

To submit testimony, click here. 

What is Oregon House Bill 3431?

Oregon House Bill 3431, filed by advocates, seeks to secure ongoing funding for economic justice initiatives through cannabis tax revenue. The bill, which has already had its first reading and been assigned to a committee, specifically aims to establish a permanent revenue stream from the Oregon Marijuana Account to fund the Economic Equity Investment Program created under chapter 103, Oregon Laws 2022 (Enrolled Senate Bill 1579). 

HB 3431 has been assigned to the House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business. The sponsors of the bill include Oregon House Representatives Bynum (chief) and Nelson, Senators Frederick (chief), Manning (chief), Jama, and Woods, as well as Senator Campos and Representatives Dexter, Helm, Meek, K Pham, and Sosa (chief). 

The next step is to testify and convey the importance of investing in communities of color and rural communities, which are the most underfunded and disproportionately affected by behavioral health disparities. Utilizing the $300 million per biennium in cannabis taxes for this purpose is a logical next step.

HB 3431 and Economic Justice in Oregon

In Oregon, Black individuals were arrested for cannabis possession at four times the rate of their White counterparts, despite equal usage across races. Black communities, along with other marginalized communities, have long endured the detrimental consequences of targeted criminalization under draconian War on Drugs laws. The legalization of cannabis in Oregon presents an imperative to address economic justice and close the wealth gap. Communities at the bottom of the wealth gap also face the highest substance abuse mortality rates. Addressing extreme poverty and substance abuse is crucial in Oregon, and utilizing the $150 million per year in cannabis taxes to fund programs promoting economic stability and substance abuse treatment for vulnerable Oregonians is a clear next step. The Economic Equity Investment Program (EEIP), established in 2022, mandated Business Oregon to offer one-time funding to community-based organizations with solutions that generate generational wealth in economically disadvantaged communities. HB 3431 urges the legislature to make ongoing, comprehensive investments using cannabis taxes to address the interconnected issues of poverty and substance abuse.

Measure 110 and HB 3431

In 2020, Oregon passed Measure 110, effectively decriminalizing all substances in the state. The measure aimed to use cannabis tax dollars to provide assistance to those in need of substance abuse treatment and recovery. However, the implementation of Measure 110 has been riddled with challenges, resulting in an audit just a few months ago to address the misuse of cannabis tax dollars. HB 3431 strives to use cannabis tax dollars in a proactive manner to provide viable solutions and long-term support for those facing substance abuse issues. Success in substance abuse treatment is intricately linked to social and economic stability. Medical research supports the need for closer integration of efforts to address the economic and social factors contributing to behavioral health inequities. Substance abuse death rates among Black Americans are alarmingly high, surpassing those of their White counterparts in recent years. Urgent action is required to tackle these disparities and allocate resources effectively.

HB 3431 and Oregon Cannabis Tax Revenue

Measure 91, enacted in 2014, legalized adult-use cannabis in Oregon, with promises to use cannabis tax revenue to rebuild communities affected by the war on drugs, particularly Black and Brown communities. However, very little has been done to follow through on these promises. Measure 110 redirected a major portion of the funds away from education and towards addiction treatment and recovery. While some aspects of Measure 110 are agreeable, prioritizing addiction treatment over opportunities for children, families, and devastated communities is morally reprehensible. The campaigns for legalization, including Measure 91, made promises about benefiting children without delivering any tangible outcomes nine years later. There has been no measurable impact from Measure 110, nor has there been progress in rebuilding communities as intended by Measure 91. The children who were nine years old when Measure 91 passed have seen no benefits, and this needs to change. Advocates, including the majority of the cannabis industry in Oregon, as well as supporting legislators, are passionate about using cannabis tax revenue as ongoing funding for this cause.

HB 3431 is Culturally Responsive

Historically, certain communities have been systemically disadvantaged, with inadequate investments in education, business capital, land grant programs, and workforce development. These are the very communities in Oregon that possess less generational wealth, resulting in increased economic instability. Homeownership rates among Black, Native, and Latinx communities are significantly lower than those of other racial and ethnic groups, and the value of their homes is also disproportionately lower. The wealth of Black, Native, and Latinx communities in Oregon is not growing at the same rate as other racial and ethnic groups. Census data predicts that the median wealth for Black and Latinx families could reach zero by 2053. HB 3431 seeks to create sustainable, long-term solutions to address these disparities.

For more information on HB 3431 or to submit testimony for the hearing on Tuesday, click here.

Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers is an accomplished writer and cannabis enthusiast. With a Ph.D. in Botany and years of experience as a researcher, she brings a scientific perspective to her captivating articles on cannabis news, recipes, and the fascinating world of psychedelics.

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