What Efforts Are Underway to Include Cannabis Businesses in COVID-19 Relief Packages?
By Andrea A. Golan
May 15, 2020
Cannabis businesses are not eligible for relief under any of the federal COVID-19 aid packages—including the paycheck protection program, economic injury disaster loans, and emergency economic injury grants. However, members of Congress and industry groups have made significant efforts to include cannabis businesses in federal COVID-19 aid. Efforts include introducing legislation to make cannabis businesses and their service providers eligible for federal relief programs and, most recently, the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act to the newest COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress. Numerous members of Congress and industry groups have also written letters to congressional leadership urging that aid for cannabis businesses be included in any future relief packages.
It remains to be seen whether future legislation will provide relief for cannabis businesses, but the industry’s efforts to educate lawmakers are undoubtedly contributing to progress. The cannabis industry is in a difficult and inequitable position, as these businesses have been hit just as hard by the global health crisis and still have employer obligations under federal law, yet are unable to access federal relief or reliable banking services.
Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act Included in COVID-19 Legislation
Included in the latest COVID-19 relief legislation, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), is the SAFE Banking Act. The SAFE Banking Act would ensure access to financial services for cannabis-related businesses and service providers. The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and many other industry organizations lobbied Congress to include language from the SAFE Banking Act in the HEROES Act, citing the unnecessary health risks of handling cash, as well as the other safety concerns addressed by the legislation. The SAFE Banking Act was already approved by the House of Representatives but stalled in late 2019, once it reached the Senate Banking Committee. The HEROES Act passed the House with bipartisan support, but it now moves to the Senate, which may or may not accept the inclusion of the banking provision.
Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act
On April 23, 2020, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act which was referred to the House Committee on Small Business. The bill would make the paycheck protection program, economic injury disaster loans, and economic injury disaster loans emergency grants available to cannabis-related businesses operating legitimately and in compliance with established regulations. The bill also exempts the SBA from liability under federal law for providing loans or guarantees to cannabis businesses.
Letters to Congress in Support of COVID-19 Relief for Cannabis Businesses
On March 26, 2020, eleven senators wrote a letter to appropriations committee leadership urging the committee to include a provision in the 2021 Financial Services and General Government and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill that would prohibit the SBA from denying loan applications for “7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and504/Certified Development Company to cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis use.”
On April 13, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis sent a letter to Representative Jason Crow asking that congress include a provision in an upcoming bill guaranteeing state-legal marijuana businesses eligibility for federal relief programs.
On April 17, 2020, a bipartisan group of 34 members of Congress sent a letter to House leadership requesting that the next COVID-19 relief package allow state-legal marijuana businesses to access federal disaster relief funds.
On April 22, 2020, 10 senators sent a letter to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer urging that the upcoming COVID-19 relief packages allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access emergency loans and grants from the SBA
On April 27, 2020, the Marijuana Justice Coalition wrote a letter to congressional leadership in support of expanding emergency COVID-19 programs to include marijuana businesses.
On April 28, 2020, marijuana associations and credit unions sent a letter to house and senate leadership asking that federal coronavirus relief also be extended to cannabis businesses.
On May 8, 2020, several marijuana advocacy groups sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking that banking access for cannabis businesses be included in the next Coronavirus Relief package.