As Americans face an increasingly uncertain and turbulent economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, House lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ensure that the cannabis industry isn’t left out of forthcoming economic stimulus efforts.
Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Ed Perlmutter, both longtime supporters of cannabis law reform, have introduced the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act. If passed, the bill would allow the cannabis industry to access funding flowing from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA).
Despite the legalization of cannabis for both adult and medical use in states from coast to coast, cannabis remains federally illegal, and therefore, cannabis business owners have not had access to federal aid programs. Still, the cannabis industry has flourished in states where cannabis is legal, and cannabis business owners have generated jobs, tax revenue, and other economic activity in many states. This tension has led to a series of calls for the federal government to allow these businesses access to the relief funds, as Cannabis Wire reported in this interview with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who has been particularly vocal on the issue.
“Cannabis businesses are major employers and significant contributors to local economies in Colorado and across the country,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “They should receive the same level of support as other legal, legitimate businesses and be eligible for SBA relief funds during this COVID-19 crisis.”
Blumenauer, the founder and chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that state-legal cannabis businesses are “essential,” and “have met the demands of this crisis.”
“We should include state-legal cannabis in federal COVID-19 response efforts. Without providing these businesses the relief needed to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures, we are putting these hard-working people – and ourselves – at risk,” Bluemenauer said in a statement.
Efforts to undo federal obstacles to financial services for the cannabis industry have been ongoing, long before the coronavirus hit. In June 2019, as Cannabis Wire reported, Representative Nydia Velázquez, chair of the House Committee on Small Business, said she is working on legislation to open up some of SBA’s programs to cannabis businesses.
“My priority is to ensure that small businesses have a seat at the table and can be involved in this emerging industry,” Velázquez said at the time. “The fact of the reality is that the trend of legalization at the state level is not going to slow down, which will lead to more jobs in many sectors of our economy, and we need to see what role the federal government can play.”
National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith emphasized in a statement, shortly after lawmakers announced the bill, that the cannabis industry employs almost a quarter of a million Americans.
“They already face disproportionate financial burdens during normal conditions, and the strains created by the coronavirus response are putting them at an even greater disadvantage and jeopardizing their ability to provide vital healthcare services,” Smith said.
NCIA spokesperson Morgan Fox told Cannabis Wire that the legislation has “been in the works for a while now,” starting with NCIA another cannabis industry groups reaching out to Congressional lawmakers on March 20, which was before the passage of the “Stage 3” relief package.
“While that effort was unsuccessful (largely due to the need for Congress to provide relief funds as quickly as possible with no time to consider possibly contentious issues), we are cautiously optimistic that cannabis businesses will be included in Stage 4, especially given the increasing recognition of the industry’s vital role and the number of jobs at stake,” Fox said.
The Minority Cannabis Business Association also reacted with optimism that this bill would strengthen small cannabis businesses, and help them “weather this difficult storm.”
“Finally having access to resources shared by other essential industries would be a huge help for entrepreneurs of color who strive to be foundational supports for their local communities,” Jason Ortiz, president of Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Cannabis Wire. “This bill would not only empower the small business to keep their staff employed, it would allow our communities of color a fighting chance to recover both socially and economically from this crisis.”