Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and a collection of bipartisan cosponsors filed a bill on Thursday that would provide small marijuana businesses with access to federal coronavirus relief funds that are available to companies in any other industry.
The bill—titled the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act—would make marijuana firms eligible for three Small Business Administration (SBA) services: the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans Emergency Grants program.
Currently, SBA specifically prevents marijuana businesses from receiving COVID-related relief due to federal prohibition. That also includes companies that work indirectly with the industry, such as accounting and legal firms.
To address the problem, the bill would enact provisions stipulating that a business can’t be excluded from SBA programs simply because it is a state-legal cannabis company.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a business shall not be ineligible for assistance,” the legislation reads, “on the basis that the business is a cannabis-related legitimate business or a service provider.”
That text would be added to three sections related to each SBA program the congressman wants the marijuana industry to be able to access.
It also includes language protecting SBA officials from being punished for providing these services to the industry, specifying that they “may not be held liable pursuant to any Federal law or regulation solely for providing a loan or a loan guarantee to a cannabis-related legitimate business or a service provider in carrying out” the relief legislation.”
“As Congress seeks to provide relief to small businesses across America, chief among those being left out are state-legal cannabis businesses that are essential to communities and have met the demands of this crisis,” Blumenauer said in a press release. “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.”
The language of the new standalone proposal is intended to show there is a legislative pathway for including similar cannabis business provisions in future coronavirus relief bills, Blumenauer’s office told Marijuana Moment.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), an initial cosponsor of the bill, said that marijuana businesses “are major employers and significant contributors to local economies in Colorado and across the country” and so 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.”
Perlmutter has also been advocating for the cannabis industry behind the scenes as it concerns coronavirus relief. And he said earlier this month that he’s working to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services amid the pandemic—a proposal that he said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) supports.
Other initial cosponsors of the new legislation include Reps. Jason Crow (D-CO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Don Young (R-AK), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Debra Haaland (D-NM), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
Brandon Banks, a cannabis business owner and chair of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that “we are an essential service discriminated against in accessing small business administration relief.”
“This has severely impacted our ability to keep providing jobs and safe and affordable medicine to an at-risk population,” he said. “By allowing small cannabis businesses to access the same resources as other industries, we can participate in helping our nation recover from COVID both physically and economically.”
The introduction of the new bill comes one week after Blumenauer led a letter of 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include this kind of language as they craft future coronavirus-related bills.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) similarly implored action to that end in a letter released on Wednesday.
“The cannabis industry employs nearly a quarter of a million Americans and has been deemed essential in state after state, yet many businesses will not survive the pandemic without help,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a press release. “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.”
“We are incredibly grateful for the dozens of lawmakers who are urging their colleagues to give cannabis businesses fair access to federal relief funds in these difficult times,” he said.
In a letter to state treasurers that was delivered earlier this month, a coalition of marijuana industry associations urged the officials to pressure their congressional delegations to include SBA access for cannabis firms in future coronavirus legislation. They also want the states to explore providing separate loan and lending programs for the market.
Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) also asked leadership last week to make it so that business owners with prior convictions, including for simple marijuana possession, aren’t disqualified from SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) recently sent a letter asking a congressman from his state to take up the issue with his colleagues and ensure SBA access for the cannabis industry.
These requests demonstrate a growing desire to normalize the marijuana industry at the federal level. At the state level, cannabis businesses are already an established part of society, widely deemed essential services that can continue to operate during the pandemic.
Lawmakers are also making a different kind of COVID-related cannabis push concerning veterans access to marijuana. In a letter led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) last week, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation urged the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow its doctors to issue verbal recommendations for medical cannabis amid the pandemic.
Read the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act below:
This piece has been updated to include a broader list of initial cosponsors.