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Marijuana Banking Bill Is Improving But Industry Still Needs Access To SBA Programs (Op-Ed)

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“With the right balance, the SAFE Banking Act can help close the gap, be a powerful force for good and begin paving the way for minority entrepreneurs to thrive in the cannabis industry.”

By Tahir Johnson, Minority Cannabis Business Association and Simply Pure Trenton

As a board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), as well as a minority cannabis operator, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges that minority entrepreneurs face in the rapidly growing cannabis industry.

I also have the experience of having worked in the financial services industry at Morgan Stanley before I left my job as a financial advisor to become a budtenderโ€”which began my improbable journey as a cannabis entrepreneur. After five years of hustling, and losing out on a license in Maryland, I was just recently awarded a license in my home town of Trenton, New Jersey where Iโ€™m focused on building an unparalleled dispensary experience under the Simply Pure brand.

From MCBAโ€™s inception in 2015, our organization has been actively working to promote equitable policies in the cannabis marketplace.

That’s why we have been strong supporters of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a bill that would provide much-needed financial services to the legal cannabis industry, including minority-owned businesses.

After years of advocacy, we are pleased to see the inclusion of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in the latest version of the SAFE Banking Act. CDFIs have a proven track record of lending to minority communities and their inclusion in the bill is a testament to the power of collaboration between MCBA, other industry stakeholders and Congress. This vital addition will help level the playing field for minority entrepreneurs, who have long faced barriers to accessing capital in the cannabis industry.

With access to capital being one of the biggest hurdles for cannabis entrepreneurs like myself, MCBA has been working since 2018 to open access to Small Business Administration (SBA) programs for the cannabis industry.

Past MCBA President Shanita Penny testified to Congress in support of this idea, which helped spur the introduction of the Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act by then-Small Business Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

Currently, SBA excludes all small businesses with direct or indirect products or services that aid the use, growth or enhancement of cannabis from accessing SBA loans and programs.

I believe it would be a game changer for cannabis companies to be able to apply for loans of up to $5 million through SBA programs rather than having to deal with predatory investors which are all too common in the current cannabis marketplace.

Now with all eyes on the Senate, MCBA believes that the inclusion of this language regarding SBA access in the SAFE Banking Act would be an equitable approach to making sure that small and minority-owned cannabis businesses have access to capital.

Therefore, MCBA calls on Congress to prioritize the interests of minority entrepreneurs by supporting the inclusion of the Fair Access for Cannabis Small Business Act language into the final SAFE Banking package.

Even as someone who has the connections and network to raise money for my business, I recognize that not everyone is able to tap in with the network Iโ€™ve built over the last few years, however small minority entrepreneurs would qualify for many of the programs that SBA offers to other American companies and have access to resources necessary to navigate those programs.

By passing the SAFE Banking Act with the inclusion of CDFIs and SBA programs, Congress can help ensure that the emerging legal cannabis industry would better support diverse and inclusive small businesses. I believe with the right balance, the SAFE Banking Act can help close the gap, be a powerful force for good and begin paving the way for minority entrepreneurs to thrive in the cannabis industry.

MCBA remains committed to working with Congress and industry stakeholders to promote equity and opportunity for all. We stand ready to provide insight, expertise and support to ensure that the SAFE Banking Act strikes the right balance for minority entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.

Tahir Johnson is a board member of Minority Cannabis Business Association and CEO of Simply Pure Trenton.

Senate Committee Adds New Witnesses For Marijuana Banking Hearing This Week

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