Just says after President Donald Trump signed the latest coronavirus relief bill, extending hundreds of billions in financial support to small businesses, the push to ensure cannabis businesses aren’t excluded in the next round is heating up.
On Tuesday, twenty-four state cannabis trade groups joined the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH) and the Policy Center for Public Health and Safety to call on Congress to grant the cannabis industry access to federal COVID-19 relief funds. While cannabis businesses have been deemed “essential” from coast to coast, they don’t have access to these funds because cannabis remains federally illegal.
ATACH’s board includes members from companies like Organigram and Native Roots, and the Policy Center for Public Health and Safety advisory board includes Dustin McDaniel, former Arkansas Attorney General, Jahna Lindemuth, former Alaska Attorney General, and Richard Carleton, former CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange.
The letter, sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, adds to a growing chorus asking Congress to allow cannabis-related businesses to access offerings provided to business owners through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“Members of Congress would not be taking a position on legalization by backing federal aid to businesses, but rather acknowledging the importance of jobs generated by cannabis businesses and ancillary companies that power the broader economy and generate tax revenues for states,” Michael Bronstein, co-founder of ATACH, told Cannabis Wire.
The letter comes just one week after House lawmakers introduced a bill that would ensure that the cannabis industry, including ancillary companies, isn’t left out of forthcoming economic stimulus efforts.
In an interview with Cannabis Wire, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden summed up why he believes the federal government should relent when it comes to federal funds and the cannabis industry.
“All our small businesses are struggling now. I just think that cannabis businesses were hurt before the pandemic. Now, they’re especially worried about whether they’re going to be able to keep their employees on, whether they’ll be able to cover expenses,” Wyden told Cannabis Wire. “Just because the federal government is locked in a time warp doesn’t mean that state-legal cannabis small businesses ought to be disqualified.”
The trade groups, in their letter to Congressional leaders, specifically highlight that cannabis-related businesses are blocked from Economic Injury Disaster Loans, for example.
“We believe that this is a severe agency overreach because it would exclude assistance for individuals in the cannabis industry working legally under state law,” they wrote, adding that cannabis businesses are also banned from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Employee Retention Credit, “which are short-sighted policy decisions given the crucial role the cannabis industry plays in the economy and state budgets.”
The authors suggest two possible “pathways”: Pandemic Relief Block Grants, which would give states with legal cannabis programs the ability to “tailor” relief to their states’ needs, and Amend Federal Relief Eligibility, which would allow the cannabis industry to be eligible for financial assistance “regardless of federal classification.”
On Monday, the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which includes the Drug Policy Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, wrote to Congressional leaders asking for cannabis businesses to be included in any COVID-19 relief because “funding is vital for vulnerable minority-owned small businesses in the marijuana industry.”
The Coalition noted that before the COVID-19 outbreak, the cannabis industry already had issues with “inclusivity” and “diversity in ownership and operations.”
While most states have deemed cannabis businesses “essential,” meaning they can remain open during social distancing efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus, some cannabis businesses have seen flagging sales and fewer customers.
“This means that these marijuana businesses are facing difficult decisions around laying off staff and reducing employee work hours or keeping their doors open without access to the much needed resources and support systems in place for other businesses,” the Coalition noted. “These challenges will disproportionately hit minority-owned businesses the hardest – jeopardizing efforts to make the industry more reflective of communities directly affected by marijuana prohibition.”