Two House members are urging congressional leaders to fix a “glaring flaw” in a coronavirus relief program that disqualifies people for business loans due to past convictions, including those for simple marijuana possession.
Under the federal Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), individuals are automatically disqualified from receiving aid if they’ve been convicted, pleaded guilty, pleaded nolo contendere, placed on pretrial diversion or placed on parole or probation in the last five years.
Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) asked House and Senate leaders to end the policy as part of future COVID-related legislation.
“These guidelines are overly broad and promise to disqualify small business owners in many jurisdictions for offenses as minor as possession of marijuana,” they wrote. “Inevitably, this policy will disproportionately hurt communities of color who, due to structural inequities, are most affected by the criminal justice system.”
They added that data suggests that communities of color are being especially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and so enforcing this rule is “counterintuitive and unjust.”
We need to Ban The Box for Covid-19 small business loans.
No small business owner should be denied critical relief because of a past offense as minor as marijuana possession.
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) April 17, 2020
“SBA has created broad criminal history standards that will disqualify small business owners who have worked hard to reintegrate into society from accessing critical PPP funds,” they said. “As Congress considers future legislation, we urge you to ease these restrictions as well as for any additional programs created in the future.”
Kennedy is a recent convert to supporting marijuana law reform. While he opposed a legalization measure that voters in his home state approved in 2016, he came out in favor of ending cannabis prohibition in 2018. And during his current primary campaign to unseat incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), he’s cosponsored federal marijuana legalization legislation and pushed for a hearing to address the consequences of the drug war.
Beyond people with prior recent convictions, the marijuana industry as a whole is specifically ineligible for the emergency relief that’s been passed by Congress. That also includes businesses that work “indirectly” with cannabis firms—like accounting and law firms.
Thirty-four House members signed onto a separate letter imploring leadership to fix that on Friday. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) is in the process of delivering a similar request on the Senate side. She also led another recent letter asking the Appropriations Committee to insert language into future spending legislation extending SBA access to marijuana businesses.
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.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) also 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.
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) this 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 letter on relief eligibility for business owners with convictions below:
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.