Senators, NORML Call for SBA Emergency Loans for Legal Cannabis Businesses

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eleven senators have called for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to allow legal cannabis businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis to be permitted to apply for emergency funding, including small business loans and other stimulus programs.

Those senators include Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I/D-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

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Oregon senators Wyden and Merkley yesterday described the effort in a press release, and posted portions of a letter sent to the SBA:

“States collected an estimated $1.3 billion in tax revenue from legal cannabis sales in 2018. However, SBA’s current policy excludes small businesses with ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing. Consequently, small businesses in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with a rapidly-growing and legal industry.”

Cannabis advocacy group The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) issued a COVID-19 policy memo to the SBA on April 1, supporting recommendations also contained in the senators’ letter and with added possible options for legal marijuana businesses to benefit from pandemic stimulus programs. The NORML memo urged speedy action from the SBA, and said:

“While the letter specifically calls for these changes to be made as part of the traditional appropriations process, which will not be concluded until September 2020 at earliest, one additional pathway would be to include legislative language in the next anticipated bill to address the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of crisis and unprecedented federal support for the economy, with hundreds of billions of dollars being issued through the SBA to support small businesses, time is of the essence. To that end, NORML has called for SBA access to be included in our recently issued policy memo.”

In its memo, NORML also pointed out legal cannabis businesses are prohibited from accessing banking services, adding extra challenges for business owners at this time. Despite the use of physical distancing and sanitation for cannabis retailers, dispensaries, and delivery services, the cash-only nature of the business requires employees and customers to handle cash, which potentially could inadvertently expose them to coronavirus.

“By enacting legislation such as The SAFE Banking Act, HR 1595, which has already passed the House of Representative by a bipartisan 321-103 vote, businesses would be able to significantly reduce the amount of interpersonal contacts between patients and employees.”

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