A coalition of 10 lawmakers sent a letter to the body’s leadership on Wednesday, asking that they include language in the next coronavirus stimulus package that would allow marijuana businesses to access federal relief dollars just as companies in other industries can.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) led the sign-on letter, which states that the cannabis industry deserves equal access to aid through two programs under the federal Small Business Administration (SBA): the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
Access to this federal relief “will allow these small businesses to keep their workers on payroll and prevent further job losses that are devastating the economy,” the senators wrote. “The coronavirus crisis demands relief for all workers and businesses, no matter the sector.”
As it stands, SBA specifically prohibits marijuana businesses—as well as those that work “indirectly” with the industry, such as law and accounting firms—from receiving financial assistance amid the pandemic.
This letter comes days after a coalition of House members, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), made a similar request to extend access to the cannabis sector in an upcoming COVID-19 federal relief bill.
The Senate passed its third phase of coronavirus legislation on Tuesday and, as was the case with prior rounds, cannabis businesses were left out. Advocates are now targeting an upcoming package.
“Workers at state-legal cannabis small businesses are no different from workers at any other small business—they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families,” the senators wrote to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the new letter. “This lack of access to SBA assistance for cannabis small businesses will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers who need support the most.”
“The COVID-19 outbreak is no time to permit outdated federal policy to stand in the way of the reality that state-legal cannabis small businesses are sources of economic growth and financial stability for thousands of workers and families,” the letter, which was also signed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Michale Bennet (D-CO), states.
Rosen led a separate letter earlier this month asking Appropriations Committee leaders to give marijuana companies SBA access in upcoming annual spending legislation. Eleven senators signed on to that.
“Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce,” she and colleagues wrote in the latest letter. “Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times.”
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.
Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) also asked leadership last week to make it so that business owners with prior convictions, including for simple marijuana possession, aren’t disqualified from SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) 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.
These requests demonstrate a growing desire to normalize the marijuana industry at the federal level. At the state level, cannabis businesses are already an established part of society, widely deemed essential services that can continue to operate during the pandemic.
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) last 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 senators’ letter on cannabis businesses and COVID legislation below: