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Some in Congress seek relief for cannabis industry as coronavirus continues to decimate economy

Apr 24, 2020

It’s become increasingly clear that the coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump earlier this year isn’t reaching the people that need it most, even as the economy continues to spiral downward during this global pandemic. While multi-million dollar companies receive corporate bailouts from the folks in Washington to the ire of many who have taken to social media, everyday people struggling to make ends meet during the nationwide series of stay-at-home orders have found it challenging to keep up with their monthly bills.

One industry that has been hit hard is the cannabis industry, which, thanks to federal law, is unable to find relief from any package passed by Congress. However, several members of Congress are hoping to see that change.

According to a release put out by NORML earlier this week, over 40 members of Congress have asked that Small Business Administration access be granted to small marijuana businesses. The bipartisan group, led by 10 members of the Senate, including Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and 34 members of the House of Representatives, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) issued letters requesting that funding programs be expanded to state-licensed cannabis businesses.

“Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce,” wrote the senators in their letter. “Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times.”

Members of the House were just as adamant about the need to open up funding. According to what they wrote, COVID-19 should not stand in the way of providing relief to people who work in the cannabis industry. “Given the nature of the epidemic, we must ensure that everyone has the capacity to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures. Without doing that, we risk undercutting the public health efforts nationwide.”

State-level cannabis businesses employ nearly 250,000 people across the country, according to NORML, which is more than the entirety of the coal industry. Most of them would be considered small or medium-sized companies. 

“With the majority of regulated states designating medical cannabis facilities as ‘essential’ to the health and welfare of the community during this time of crisis, it is critical that Congress authorizes the Small Business Association to similarly recognize their importance and to allow the agency to provide these small businesses with economic assistance to ensure public health, patient access, and continuity of care,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. "Many of these establishments are small-to-medium size operators, with their employees keeping their doors open without access to the support systems in place for other businesses, thus depriving them of potentially lifesaving protections."

Still, despite the efforts to help from Congress, the SBA has been reluctant to move forward. In a recent statement, the Administration acknowledged that, outside of hemp, which is now legal, there is little that they can do.

“With the exception of businesses that produce or sell hemp and hemp-derived products (Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334), marijuana-related businesses are not eligible for SBA-funded services.”

According to NORML, the group has been attempting to lobby for several pieces of legislation that would bring relief to the cannabis industry, including HR 3540: The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act, and HR 3884/S 2227: The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act – which “prohibit the Small Business Administration from declining to provide certain small business loans to an eligible entity solely because it is a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”

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