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The end of April saw a new bill introduced in Congress that would give state-legal cannabis businesses access to the Small Businesses Administration’s COVID-19 relief programs.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado introduced the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act. Blumenauer also serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, alongside Oakland’s Barbara Lee. 

At the moment, pot businesses don’t have access to a variety of services thanks to their legal classification and lack of access to real banking options. The congressmen pointed out the most notable issue at the moment is the industry not being able to access the SBA loans designed to help pay workers through the crisis, keep their health care benefits in place, and support other kinds of family or sick leave. 

Specifically, the bill would give the legal market eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans emergency advances.

“As Congress seeks to provide relief to small businesses across America, chief among those being left out are state-legal cannabis businesses that are essential to communities and have met the demands of this crisis,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “We should include state-legal cannabis in federal COVID-19 response efforts.  Without providing these businesses the relief needed to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures, we are putting these hardworking people — and ourselves — at risk.”

Perlmutter spoke on what these businesses currently being denied support mean across America. 

“Cannabis businesses are major employers and significant contributors to local economies in Colorado and across the country,” Perlmutter said, “They should receive the same level of support as other legal, legitimate businesses and be eligible for SBA relief funds during this COVID-19 crisis.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association was quick to agree with Perlmutter’s take.

“The cannabis industry employs nearly a quarter of a million Americans and has been deemed essential in state after state, yet many businesses will not survive the pandemic without help,” said NCIA executive director Aaron Smith, “They already face disproportionate financial burdens during normal conditions, and the strains created by the coronavirus response are putting them at an even greater disadvantage and jeopardizing their ability to provide vital healthcare services. We are incredibly grateful for the dozens of lawmakers who are urging their colleagues to give cannabis businesses fair access to federal relief funds in these difficult times.”

NCIA also noted nearly three dozen of Blumenauer’s colleagues signed on to a letter featuring language similar to the bill last week. It’s also being backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and a number of others.  

One of the biggest concerns about the pandemic is it could lead to the consolidation of the industry even further. Without access to SBA support, many of the few mom and pop cannabis companies we have left will go under. The corporate entities who were better prepared financially to deal with the economic catastrophe of coronavirus will slide in to fill the void left by smaller operators. 

The most legitimate equity program applicants across the country face much of the greatest risk in the sense that those who have sold the least of themselves to make their cannabis dream happen likely also have the least support structure. Compounding the issue is the fact they’re navigating the everchanging programs meant to reinvest in the communities hit the hardest by the criminalization of marijuana while trying to keep the lights on. 

The Minority Cannabis Business Association believes SBA support is vital to those equity applicants. 

“This bill would ensure our struggling equity businesses can weather this difficult storm and come out the other side stronger than ever. We thank Rep. Blumenauer, Rep. Nydia Velazquez and everyone who worked on making this a reality.” said Jason Ortiz, president of MCBA.”Now let’s get to work passing this legislation and securing our communities the support they rightfully deserve.”