WASHINGTON, D.C. – An economic stimulus package proposed today by House Democrats includes provisions for cannabis banking. Valued at $3 trillion, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act would provide hazard pay for essential workers, funding for coronavirus testing, rent and mortgage assistance, extended unemployment benefits, additional funding for small businesses and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, emergency relief for the U.S. Postal Service, a second $1,200 stimulus check for taxpayers, and would ensure access to financial services for cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
Legal cannabis advocacy organization NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) pointed out that while SAFE Banking Act legislation had been included in the latest pandemic relief package, no provisions had been added to the bill that would allow small and mid-sized legal cannabis businesses access to crisis relief loans or programs offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
SAFE Banking Act legislation, if approved, would allow legal cannabis businesses to access banking services. The main sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act is Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who introduced the legislation in March 2019.
“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the CARES 2 package is a positive development, but one that’s akin to applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a blog post. “In the majority of states, these cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic. But at the federal level, they are being cast aside by Congress. Those small cannabis businesses facing tough economic times are essentially being told by Congress to shutter their doors and fire their employees.”
Due to continued federal cannabis prohibition, as well as lack of access to banking services for the industry, most legal cannabis businesses have been excluded from federal pandemic economic relief programs—despite taxes paid by cannabis businesses, as well as being designated “essential services” during the pandemic in several legal states.
“While larger, better capitalized players may be able to weather this storm, smaller cannabis businesses may not be able to do so absent some economic stimulus. By continuing to deny these small businesses eligibility to SBA assistance, it is possible that we could see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner that is inconsistent with the values and desires of many within the cannabis space,” Strekal added.
He praised an added provision in the HEROES Act, Section 90009, which would bar the SBA from discriminating against applicants due to any involvement with the “criminal justice system.”
“This development will help individuals who have suffered under the lasting legacy of marijuana criminalization, and will ensure that they no longer face undue economic discrimination when it comes to being eligible for SBA assistance,” Strekal said.
Democrats anticipate a vote on the bill as soon as Friday. If approved, the HEROES Act would be the latest in a series of multi-trillion dollar economic relief measures that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
“Yes, we are very excited about it. It continues on the work that we’ve done in a bipartisan way in the first four packages that have passed the House,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told journalist Greta Van Susteren yesterday about HEROES Act legislation, on GRAY TV’s “Full Court Press.”
“That is investing in state and local government, which is carrying a big brunt of the coronavirus crisis. It also invests in testing, testing, testing, which is the key to opening up our economy, and it talks about money in the pockets of the American people, whether that’s direct payments, unemployment insurance, PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans, any initiatives that puts money in circulation, which we believe not only helps those people but are stimulus to the economy,” Pelosi continued.