Marijuana businesses in legal states would have been made eligible for certain federal financial assistance under an amendment that was proposed to a Senate-passed budget plan, but the cannabis measure was ultimately not voted on by the body.
The amendment from Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) was one of more than 1,000 that were filed on the budget resolution, which members narrowly passed early on Wednesday through a reconciliation process requiring just 50 votes.
The cannabis amendment sought to “establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring that small businesses have access to loans and technical assistance in States that have legalized the use of cannabis.”
Presumably that fund would have been overseen by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), which has repeatedly said that state-legal marijuana companies—and even ancillary businesses like legal firms that work with the industry—do not qualify for its loans or services.
Weeks before Wednesday’s budget reconciliation “vote-a-rama” on dozens of unrelated amendments that did see action, a group of 10 senators sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership, requesting that language allowing marijuana businesses to access SBA aid be included in a report for a separate spending bill.
That letter was led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who in February pressed the then-nominee for SBA administrator, Isabella Guzman, on helping cannabis firms access assistance from the agency. The since-confirmed official simply committed to “further understanding those rules and regulations” and working with the senator’s office.
Rosen and other lawmakers later penned a letter to Senate leadership in April of last year arguing that the cannabis industry deserved equal access to federal relief.
By the end of that month, supportive lawmakers in Congress had introduced a bill to extend access to coronavirus relief funds to state-legal cannabis businesses, but the measure did not come to a vote.
Then in September, wildfires on the West Coast hit marijuana growers hard. Oregon regulators, for instance, said 20 percent of cannabis companies in the state had been encouraged to evacuate. But SBA officials said cannabis operators could not apply for disaster relief loans because marijuana remains federally prohibited.
That said, the agency has touted its work to support companies in the newly legal hemp industry, and one of its component offices has pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make its rules on the crop more favorable to small businesses.
While Hickenlooper’s latest amendment didn’t cross the finish line during reconciliation, he did successfully insert language into a massive infrastructure bill that the Senate passed on Tuesday that’s aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
The legislation also encourages states that have enacted legalization laws to educate people about impaired driving.
The included language on scientists’ access to retail cannabis products is substantively the same as a provision included in a House-passed infrastructure bill. The House will now consider the Senate version of the large-scale legislation before potentially sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Hickenlooper, for his part, campaigned against Colorado’s 2012 ballot measure that legalized marijuana. After its passage, however, he oversaw its implementation as governor and has since said many of the fears he had about the reform did not come to fruition.
Last November, he defeated Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who was a champion of cannabis reform measures in the Senate. With his most recent cannabis business aid amendment and the research one before that, it appears that Hickenlooper may seek to play a leading role in pushing for marijuana measures in Congress.
Read the text of Hickenlooper’s amendment on federal aid for marijuana businesses below: