What Efforts Are Underway to Include Cannabis Businesses in COVID-19 Relief Packages?
By Andrea A. Golan, Michelle Bodian
Jan 28, 2021
Cannabis businesses are not eligible for relief under any of the current federal COVID-19 aid packages including the paycheck protection program, economic injury disaster loans and economic injury disaster loans emergency grants. Unfortunately, this prohibition has carried through even in the latest round of funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 (P.L. 116-260). However, there have been significant efforts to include cannabis businesses in these federal COVID-19 aid measures by members of congress and industry groups, including the introduction of legislation making cannabis businesses and their service providers eligible for federal relief programs. 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.
On January 14, 2021, President Biden released his COVID-19 economic stimulus proposal. Unfortunately, the 19-page proposal did not include any cannabis specific provisions, but it is too soon to predict whether a more comprehensive proposal will include funding considerations for cannabis businesses. 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 Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), was 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 a number of 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 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 made it to the Senate Banking Committee. The HEROES Act passed a House vote, but stalled at the Senate in July 2020.
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 legitimate businesses. The bill also exempts the SBA from liability under federal law for providing loans or guarantees to cannabis businesses.
Small Business Disaster Relief Equity Act of 2020
On September 24, 2020, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Small Business Disaster Relief Equity Act of 2020. The bill would make state-legal cannabis businesses eligible for disaster assistance and it requires each agency that administers disaster assistance to allow these businesses to retroactively apply. Unfortunately, this bill has not gained traction and has not progressed upon its introduction in the Senate.
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, and 504/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.