Advocates, stakeholders and legislators have lobbied for some form of cannabis reform to be incorporated into COVID-19 legislation. And this round, they succeeded, with the language of the Safe and Fair Banking Act (SAFE) making the cut.
Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), main sponsor of the stand-alone bill that is included in the new general package, previously raised the issue at a meeting of the Democratic Caucus and said that President Nancy Pelosi (D- CA) supported him.
I just learned #SAFEBankingAct is included in the CARES 2.0 package. I pushed for it because the # COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE The crisis has only exacerbated the risk posed to cannabis companies and their employees, and they need help like any other legitimate business. #copolitics
– Representative Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) May 12, 2020
“The purpose of this section is to increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services for businesses and legitimate service providers related to cannabis and by reducing the amount of cash in these businesses,” the text of the provision, which is attached to the 1,815- page coronavirus rescue package, states.
The House passed the SAFE Banking Act last year and has since sat in limbo on the Senate Banking Committee. Negotiations on the bill continue, with President Mike Crapo (R-ID) recommending a series of changes, but Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) said an agreement was “close”.
Lawyers also asked lawmakers to add language extending access to Small Business Administration (SBA) federal rescue programs to cannabis companies in coronavirus legislation. However, this did not happen in this package.
Currently, the SBA specifically prohibits marijuana companies from receiving COVID-related relief due to the federal ban. It also includes companies that work indirectly with the industry, such as accounting and legal firms.
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) presented a bill last month that would correct this, calling for SBA access for cannabis companies and ancillary businesses. This came after he directed a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leaders to include the policy change in future coronavirus bills.
Sens Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.
The new Coronavirus Bill includes a section that could help people who have already been convicted become eligible for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection (PPP) program.
It states that the agency’s lending service “will include a statement that a claimant is not ineligible for assistance under this subsection solely because of their involvement in the criminal justice system.” “
This appears to respond to a request made by representatives Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Joyce Beatty (D-OH) in a letter to leaders last month. The pair pointed out that current policy even makes those convicted of cannabis possession ineligible for the PPP.
Small business owners should not be denied a lifeline because of past mistakes as small as possession of marijuana.
that’s why @RepBeatty and I fought to have this language included in this next package to protect these small business owners, their workers and their communities. https://t.co/5Cyr0x03Xb
– Representative Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) May 12, 2020
Here’s how advocates react to news about the cannabis banks included in COVID legislation:
“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the CARES 2 package is a positive development, but is similar to applying a bandage to a gaping wound,” said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, in a Press release. “In the majority of states, these cannabis companies were deemed essential during this pandemic. But at the federal level, they are rejected by Congress. These small cannabis companies facing tough economic times are essentially being asked by Congress to shut down and fire their employees. “
“While larger and better capitalized players may be able to weather this storm, small cannabis companies may not be able to do so in the absence of economic stimulus,” he added. “By continuing to deny these small businesses eligibility for SBA assistance, it is possible that we may see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner inconsistent with the values and desires of many in the cannabis space. “
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said, “We congratulate the leadership of Congress for putting public health and safety first by including sensitive banking banking policy in this legislation.”
On behalf of the legal cannabis industry, we commend the leadership of Congress for prioritizing public health and safety by including a reasonable banking policy on cannabis in this legislation. #SAFEBankingAct #CannabisIsEssentialhttps://t.co/toYmDYjwy2 pic.twitter.com/uh76Tfv8XV
– Aaron Smith (@FAaronSmith) May 12, 2020
“Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been found to be” essential “in most states,” he said. “It is extremely important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations. “
Saphira Galoob, executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), said that “cannabis businesses face the same challenges as other small businesses without the same essential financial tools and reliable banking services.”
“Providing access to banking services removes some of the barriers that hold back the full potential of the fastest growing sector of the US economy,” she said. “NCR applauds the House for recognizing the legitimacy of the cannabis business, and in particular the work of Congressman Perlmutter who has been a tireless champion of the industry and its thousands of small businesses and workers.”
Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana, said that cannabis companies “should not be included in a bill designed to help people who are suffering in this country.”
– SAM (@learnaboutsam) May 12, 2020
“And while it is encouraging to see congressional leaders taking serious steps to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the inclusion of such a glaring gift to Big Marijuana – which would allow cartels and unions criminals potentially gaining access to our finances – should be a complete one with no startup as discussions on this package continue, “he said.
A vote in Parliament on the COVID-19 package is expected as early as Friday. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will accept the inclusion of the banking provision.
Read the text of the cannabis bank provisions of the Coronavirus Relief Bill below:
COVID cannabis banking text by Marijuana Moment on Scribd
This story has been updated to include the reaction of the defenders.
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