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Medford’s 420 fund grows

Taxing the sale of marijuana, A golden piggy bank and calculator on a wood background with a marijuana leaf
Medford banks another million from cannabis taxes and uses it to fund eight city projects

For a city that balked at marijuana legalization, Medford has amassed a considerable pot of money from cannabis taxes, helping to fill its “420” fund.

“I think it’s great,” said Councilor Clay Bearnson, who works in a Medford cannabis store. “It means more money going into the council vision fund.”

The city recently added another $1 million to its coffers from cannabis taxes after getting a windfall of unexpectedly high revenues, and, yes, the money is put in a fund numbered “420.”

“It was definitely deliberate,” Bearnson said.

420 is often used as another name for cannabis, and April 20 is known as weed day — or a stoner holiday — around the world.

The 420 fund is basically a number assigned to the Council Vision Fund, which is used to pay for special projects.

In 2020, Medford had the most pot stores per capita of any city in Oregon with a population of 50,000 or more. But Medford hasn’t always embraced cannabis, or legalization.

In 2014, the city balked at the idea of allowing the sale of recreational cannabis. The debate raged on the council for years, and voters in the city approved the recreational sale of cannabis in 2016.

In 2018, Bearnson pushed hard to put the cannabis money aside for special projects rather than just dumping it into the regular budget.

“It cannot be transferred to any other funds or go toward salaries,” he said. “I wanted the opportunity for the council to work together and give it back to the community.”

On June 17, the council awarded $767,500 of cannabis taxes toward eight projects after it received more cannabis taxes than expected.

Kid Time Children’s Museum got $75,000 for grants, Fagone Field received $82,500 for LED lights, a community court pilot project got $50,000, the Downtown Medford Association received $50,000, the Bear Creek trail got $15,000, a hazard mitigation program received $375,000, a screening for new urban renewal districts took $20,000 and the infrastructure for an indestructible bathroom in the downtown got $100,000.

Since 2017, the city has received $3,473,815.08 in cannabis retail taxes.

Out of the past five years, 2021 has generated the most cannabis tax revenue at $1,069,060.53, and the year isn’t even over.

In 2020, the city received $992,388.79; in 2019, $738,315.82; in 2018, $447,212.34; and in 2017 it received $226,837.60.

Every six months, the council votes on a list of project that it funds from 420 money.

Ryan Martin, Medford chief financial officer, said all the money from cannabis taxes goes into the Council Vision Fund.

Several years ago the city debated putting cannabis dollars toward paying down the debt from the Public Employees Retirement System, known as PERS.

Bearnson and other councilors fought against that idea.

Martin said PERS rates have not been as bad as expected since then.

Martin said the city intentionally picked 420 as the number for the cannabis tax fund.

“We had to assign a number for it,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.